The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) notes with distress the accounts about journalists Shubhangi Misra and Manisha Mondal of The Print being molested on 30th May while on assignment covering the protest in Haridwar by India’s renowned wrestlers against sexual harassment by Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and a Member of Parliament representing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). We condemn this incident.
Great protest against sexual harassment. Only 3 female reporters here, including @manishamondal25 and I. Both of us have already been molested by men who have come here to either cover the protest or see the tamasha. Shame on Haridwar journalists.
— Shubhangi Misra (@shubhangi_misra) May 30, 2023
The safety of women reporters in the field, especially in situations involving mass protests or mobilisation, has always been a matter of concern for the NWMI. In the past, we have called for better measures to be taken by media organisations for women’s security, as well as for more care and cooperation from local authorities.
In the case of the ongoing, months-long protest by the country’s top wrestlers, the way the Delhi police manhandled the sporting champions as well as journalist Sakshi Joshi exactly a month ago, does not evoke much faith in the way authorities are handling the safety of women at protest sites. That some of the molesters in Haridwar were reportedly “men who had come to cover the protest” is also a matter of grave concern. The NWMI demands that suitable action be taken against such male journalists by their parent organisations.
The NWMI reiterates its stand on the demand of the wrestlers for justice. In this context, we state that the attitude of the government has been astonishing and alarming, to say the least. Vicious campaigns were launched on social media and through friendly media outlets to discredit the wrestlers’ protest. There has also been no official word from the government on the complaints the wrestlers have been highlighting since the beginning of the year. This has been especially jarring since the government has, in the past, claimed the wrestlers’ hard-won, prestigious medals as examples of the success of official policies and actions, using multiple photo-ops and publicised interactions with the champions to drive home the message. In contrast, today, when reporters ask questions, government ministers seem to run away from their duty to answer them – at least one literally sprinting to get away.
The apparent apathy of the government, the continued prominent presence of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh in well-publicised government events and the brazen statements he continues to make do not elicit confidence in the sports establishment and the government in terms of their present or future ability to provide a safe atmosphere for young aspirants to sporting careers, who typically begin professional training at the age of 10 or 11.
The rough treatment and detention of well-known champions by the Delhi police on the day the new Parliament building was inaugurated are bound to intimidate many young girls who are keen to take up sports in the future. It will also, no doubt, make it more difficult for them to persuade their families to let them follow their dreams.
We are hereby reproducing some of the contents of the FIR against Brij Bhushan Singh where multiple wrestlers have detailed their experiences of harassment, to underline the gravity of the situation.
“In Singh’s WFI office, ‘he started touching me inappropriately on my palm, knee, thighs and shoulders without my consent. I started shivering at that very moment.’”
“On my visit to the federation office… I was called into the room of the accused (Singh)… my brother, who was accompanying me, was categorically asked to stay back…The accused (Singh), upon the departure of other persons, closed the door… pulled me towards himself and tried making forceful physical contact with me.”
“To further fulfil his sexual intentions, he also tried to bribe me by offering to buy me supplements which I may require as an athlete in exchange for sexual favours.”
“Holding her tightly, pretending to get a picture clicked, the accused (Singh) squeezed her towards himself, pressed hard on her shoulder and then deliberately…brushed his hands against her breasts.”
That no action has been taken against Brij Bhushan despite a strong prima facie case outlined in the First Information Report (FIR), which includes the statement of a minor, sends out a very wrong message to girls aspiring to become sportspersons: that no matter what position you reach in the sport, you will have no protection from a predator, especially if he has the tacit or active support of the government. Is this the message we want to send out to our youngsters?
- The NWMI demands that necessary action be taken against Brij Bhushan at the earliest to restore the faith of citizens, especially women, in the country’s system of justice.
- We also demand better safety for women participating and/or covering the protest and sensitisation of the police deployed at such sites.
- We request media houses to assure women journalists that they have the organisation’s support while also making it clear to male employees that questionable behaviour towards female colleagues will not be tolerated.
The Network of Women in Media, India
3 June 2023