Backing his niece Vinesh Phogat, Mahavir Phogat alleged that Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh conducts women’s training camp in Lucknow because he has a house there, where he allegedly exploits them. “Wo hamesha ladkiyon ka camp Lucknow mey karwata hai, apne ghar ke qareeb (he always conducts the women’s camp in Lucknow, where he has a house),” he told The Indian Express.
“Pehle bhi kaafi ladkiyon ne shikayat ki hai uske khilaf magar kabhi kuch nahi hua (several girls had complained about his behaviour in the past but nothing has happened),” he added.
He praised them for their courage to speak out against him publically. “Aaj saare bachhon ne bahaduri dikhayi hai (I am glad that all these kids have shown the courage to come out against his tyranny,” he said.
The response came after Vinesh’s explosive press conference in the afternoon wherein she detailed the alleged abuse by WFI chief and coaches. “This exploitation is happening every day. Why does the camp happen in Lucknow? We have written to the PM and the Sports Minister … The reason it’s happening over there is because he has a house there and so it’s easy to exploit the girls,” she said, fuming.
“They trouble us too much. They get into our personal lives and relationships. They want to know everything,” she added.
Fear for life
The Haryana wrestler said she fears for her life. “They have become very powerful. I’ve spoken today and I don’t know if I’ll be alive tomorrow because of this. I know about 10-20 girls who have been exploited in the national camp over the past 10 years. Those girls are scared because of their family background. They can’t fight against them because they aren’t powerful,” she said.
Vinesh, though, is a more recognised name. “I can do it because I don’t mind if they stop me from wrestling. I have a house, I have food. I am here because I don’t want the future generations to have to go through this sadness and pain. We have only wrestling as our livelihood. They are taking away our livelihood. Our only option is to die so might as well do good and die,” she said.
Bajrang, Vinesh, Rio Olympics medallist Sakshi Malik, world championship medallist Sarita Mor, Sangeeta Phogat, Satyawart Malik, Jitender Kinha and CWG medallist Sumit Malik were among 30 wrestlers who assembled at Jantar Mantar to protest against the WFI president.
Phogat, who trained his daughters and niece to become medal-winning wrestlers and whose story Bollywood film ‘Dangal’ has been made, said he was the first campaigner against the gender taboos that surrounded the girl child in Haryana. But he said he is ashamed that after all these years, his own daughters are facing problems from the wrestling body chief.
“Jab puri duniya mere khilaf thi tab maine beti padhai bhi aur khilai bhi hai, mujhe sharm aa rahi hai ke mere bacchon ko ye sab dekhna pad rah hai(When the entire world was against me I gave my daughters proper education and trained them, now I am ashamed that my own daughters have to see all these things),” said Phogat.
He also claimed that Brij Bhushan was targeting Haryana wrestlers. “Be it in the Olympics, CWG or Asia, Haryana wrestlers had always won medals. For the past few years, he had started targeting them. He never organises a National Championships in Haryana. It is always be held in his own town (Gonda). Before the Tokyo Olympics, he forced Bajrang to attend the national camp, while he was nursing an injury,” he said.
However, Brij Bhushan has rejected all the charges. ”There is no truth in any of the allegations. Why should I quit? Even if one woman wrestler comes and proves the sexual harassment charge, I am ready to be hanged. There is an industrialist behind it (conspiracy),” said the WFI President.
“There can be an investigation by the CBI or police. There is no dictatorship. These same wrestlers had met me a week ago and did not say anything,” he added.
Responding to the allegation of death threats given to Vinesh on his behalf, he said: “Why did Vinesh not talk to me or approach the police at that time? Why did she not meet the PM or the Sports Minister? Why is she saying this now.”