Indian police charge lawmaker with sexual harassment in case brought by female wrestlers

Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, and Sakshi Malik address a news conference as they take part in a sit-in protest demanding the arrest of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief, who they accuse of sexually harassing female players, in New Delhi, India, 24 April 2023.

Indian police filed charges of sexual harassment and criminal intimidation on Thursday against the chief of the country's wrestling federation, a powerful member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), following complaints made by female wrestlers.

Public Prosecutor Atul Srivastav read out the charges at a court hearing in the capital New Delhi.

A police source said last week more than 155 people have been questioned in the investigations against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a member of parliament from prime minister Narendra Modi's party. The investigations followed months of complaints by the country's top wrestlers, including several Olympic and Asian Games medallists.

In an interview on Wednesday to local media, Singh rejected all allegations against him.

The wrestlers began a sit-in protest against the lack of action in April and were briefly detained by police in New Delhi as they cleared the site the following month.

The chief of the Wrestling Federation of India, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who wrestlers accuse of sexually harassing female players, also a federal lawmaker from prime minister Narendra Modi's ruling party, arrives to attend a political rally in Colonelgunj, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India on 11 June 2023.

Images of the athletes being dragged away and carried off in buses went viral, sparking criticism from top athletes and opposition politicians.

The wrestlers also threatened to throw their medals into the Ganges - India's holiest river - before agreeing to meet home (interior) minister Amit Shah and later the sports minister.

Amid mounting outrage, the wrestlers suspended their protest after sports minister Anurag Thakur promised a June 15 deadline to conclude the probe into Singh.