In a new development in the ongoing protest by women wrestlers led by
Olympic-medalists Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malikkh and Vinesh Phogat at Jantar Mantar against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), Mumbai-based actor Rayya Labib spoke up in support against the ‘oppression’ by the WFI.
Speaking exclusively to this reporter, Rayya said, “A female relative of mine who hails from Assam is a national level wrestler. She has faced the same harassment as enumerated by Olympic-medalists Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malikkh and Vinesh Phogat. In fact, fed up of this mental torture, she tried to commit suicide on two occassions. Fortunately for her, the family supported her and I got her to shift to Mumbai for a few weeks to help her recover from the depression.”
“I know all that has been going on at the WFI. Two of my relatives are into wrestling. There is a lot of discrimination and nepotism,” Rayya said, adding that women wrestlers are affected because there is a sexual angle to the harassment, which they face in the form of actions, words and expressions. According to her the harassment can extend to demanding sexual favors by coaches and referees.
The grapplers have alleged “harassment of wrestlers by the WFI through its arbitrary rules and regulations”.
The protesting wrestlers further accused the Federation of interfering with their personal lives and exploiting them.
“When we went to the Olympics, we did not have physio or a coach. After we started raising our voices, we were threatened,” another wrestler was quoted by the media.
The president of the Wrestling Federation of India has denied the allegations and told news agency ANI that if such a thing has indeed happened, he will “hang” himself. In 2021, he was caught on video slapping a wrestler at the Under-15 Nationals in Ranchi.
The women wrestlers, who sat in an unprecedented protest at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, pointed to Singh’s alleged “dictatorship” in running the federation, noting that mistreatment of wrestlers had been going on for years.
According to media reports, among the 30 gathered were also Sarita Mor, Sangeeta Phogat, Satyawart Malik, Jitender Kinha, and Commonwealth Games medallist Sumit Malik.
“Women wrestlers have been sexually harassed at national camps by coaches and also the WFI president,” Vinesh Phogat said, stressing that the WFI president is also involved in the sexual harassment of “so many girls.”
Some coaches who the federation considers “favourites” misbehave with women coaches too, Vinesh said.
However, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games medalist wrestler Divya Kakran on Wednesday defended the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Saran Singh, accused of ‘sexual harassment’ by top Indian wrestler Vinesh Phogat, who among the leading an unprecedented protest in New Delhi from Wednesday, by saying he has done no wrong.