Sexual harassment: SC issues notice to Delhi govt
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notices to the Delhi government and others on a plea by seven women wrestlers seeking an FIR against WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, saying the allegations of sexual harassment levelled by them are “serious” and require its consideration.
The top court was initially of the view that the plea may be listed for hearing on Friday. However, after hearing some arguments from senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who mentioned the matter, it decided to take up the case straightaway.
A bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha said normally, a remedy to approach police is available under Section 156 (police officers’ power to investigate cognisable cases) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
“What are the charges,” it asked.
Sibal said the seven wrestlers, including a minor, have made alleged sexual harassment allegations but no FIR has been lodged so far despite the law being very clear on this aspect.
“These are women wrestlers…There are seven which include a minor. There is a committee report which has not been made public. And no FIR is registered,” he said.
Referring to judgements, the senior lawyer said even a police personnel can be prosecuted for not registering an FIR in an offence of this nature.
Taking note of the submissions, the bench said, “There are serious allegations made in the petition by wrestlers who have represented India and sexual harassment meted out to them. The matter requires consideration by this court.” “(The plea) Taken on board. The identity of the petitioners shall be redacted. Only the redacted petition shall be made available in the public domain. Issue notice. Returnable on Friday. Liberty to serve the NCT Delhi. The complaints which form a part of an attachment in sealed cover shall again be re-sealed and shall be paced again together with the … plea,” the bench ordered.
During the brief hearing, the bench was told that the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Singh also happens to be a BJP MP.
The women wrestlers in their plea contended that despite filing complaints, the Delhi Police has failed to register the FIR.
“In spite of the lapse of three days i.e, from April 21, 2023 to April 24, 2023, no conclusive action has been taken by the Delhi Police. This clearly depicts a sad state of affairs and a clear violation of human rights.
“It is the responsibility of the police to ensure the safety of all citizens, especially of those who are most vulnerable, however, having miserably failed to discharge their duties, the very institution that is meant to safeguard them,” the plea said.
The wrestlers stated that after being “sexually, emotionally, mentally, and physically” exploited by Singh and his close aids on numerous occasions, they have mustered up the courage to raise their voices against such acts and sat on protest at Jantar Mantar seeking appropriate action against the perpetrators.
“Pursuant to the same, the Ministry of Sports in wake of such allegations against the accused person, vide public notice dated January 23, 2023 decided to constitute a five-member oversight committee to investigate the allegations on the receipt of the complaints received on the behest of the petitioners.
“The oversight committee took note of the allegations, and the statements of the victims were recorded. However, it is distressing to know that despite the committee being formed, no concrete steps have been taken to address this critical issue,” the plea said.
The petitioners claimed that they have learnt through media reports that Singh has been given clean-chit by the committee, probing the allegations, in the matter and the report of the committee is lying at the Ministry of Sports and despite requests it is not being made public.
“The women athletes who make our nation proud are facing sexual harassment, and instead of getting the support they deserve, they are being forced to run from pillar to post to get justice. On April 21, 2023, the petitioners proceeded to lodge an FIR against the accused person/persons and visited the Connaught Place police station along with their formal written complaints.
“The Police at the said police station took the complaints and did not even issue a formal receipt of the complaint for about three hours. The Police officials were seen taking pictures of the complaints on their mobiles and sending the same here and there. The attitude of the police was shockingly rude towards the complainants,” the plea said.
In an unprecedented move, top wrestlers such as Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik staged a sit-in protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar in January and accused the WFI boss of sexual exploitation and intimidation.
The wrestlers had demanded that WFI be disbanded and its president be removed.
The sports ministry had formed the five-member oversight committee, headed by boxing great MC Mary Kom, on January 23 and asked it to submit its findings in one month.
Later, it extended the deadline by two weeks and also added Babita Phogat to the probe panel as its sixth member on the insistence of the protesting wrestlers.
The sports ministry on Monday had stalled the Federation’s election on May 7 and asked the IOA to form an ad-hoc committee to conduct polls.