During his police interrogation on May 6, Wrestling Federation of India president and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh rubbished all allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him by six women wrestlers. Singh termed the accusations that he touched their stomach and breast on the pretext of checking their breathing as ‘false and baseless’, without elaborating further.

When he deposed in front of the government-appointed Oversight Committee on February 28, Singh – who denied all allegations back then as well – cited yoga exercises as a reason to check breathing patterns, referenced scriptures to defend his decision of having separate training camps for women and men, and lacked awareness of the sexual harassment laws that were passed in the Parliament of which he’s a member.

A 24-page transcript of Singh’s deposition is a part of the oversight committee’s report, which is mentioned in the Delhi Police charge sheet, and has been submitted as an annexure.

During the panel hearing, one wrestler complained that Singh touched her “stomach and chest 3-4 times and continued to comment on her breathing pattern”. Singh, however, denied the allegation and said he touched his own stomach to demonstrate the correct way of breathing.

Singh told the MC Mary Kom-led committee that he was ‘unable to recall where the incident took place’ but during a tournament, he along with another woman wrestler and a coach, wondered why the complainant was taking wrong decisions during a bout.

“So we said her breathing pattern is reverse. Madam, I have been a victim of this. For around 20 years, I couldn’t sleep properly. An incident had taken place, my son died by suicide, and I found refuge in yoga. I was told that since my breathing pattern is reverse, I am unable to sleep,” he told the panel.

The wrestler and the coach, Singh said, asked him the meaning of the reverse breathing pattern. “So I placed my hand on my stomach and showed them that when we breathe in, the stomach should expand, and contract when we breathe out. Everyone checked their breathing at that moment. When the complainant [name withheld] came, I told her, ‘beta, you should join yoga as well.’”

Singh added that he questioned a physiotherapist if she massaged the complainant’s hands 2-3 times a day. “She said no. So, I asked the complainant if she checks her breathing while sleeping. However, she laughed. So I came out and said it’s tough for her to win a medal because she isn’t serious,” Singh told the committee.

Physio’s version

Singh was also questioned by different members of the panel over the federation’s decision to conduct the women’s national camp at the Sports Authority of India’s centre in Lucknow.

Paramjeet Malik, the former physiotherapist of a woman wrestler who was at the camp in Lucknow in 2014, told the panel that a car used to come at around 10 or 11 in the night and take some ‘junior wrestlers’ out of the camp.

Malik said he brought this to the notice of the chief coach but instead of taking steps to prevent it, Malik’s name was struck off from the camp.

In his defence, Brij Bhushan argued that in his ‘experience, the camps for men and women should not be held at the same venue.’

“I did not tell the authorities to hold the camp in Lucknow. I told them that have it on a separate campus or else it will impact their training. Even the parents of the wrestlers told me to split the two camps,” Brij Bhushan said.

When pressed by the committee members as to why the players’ opinion should not be taken on this subject, given men and women wrestlers train together in akharas as well as abroad, Brij Bhushan said: “This doesn’t happen outside.
Jawan bhai behan ek sath kyun nahi sote? Ye mahila university, Mahila college kyun hai? … Hamare shastro mein kaha gaya hai bhai behan ek sath ekant me na rahe. Ab hum logon ne keh rakha hai toh ispe bahut badi debate ho jayegi.”
(“Why don’t brothers and sisters sleep together? Why do we have women’s universities, women’s colleges? Our scriptures say that brothers and sisters should not stay alone together. Now that we have said this, it has triggered a debate.”)

Singh was also asked why the federation did not have a complaints committee to deal with sexual harassment cases as per the government guidelines. He said it was because ‘till date, not even one child has come with a complaint.’

“If any such rule is laid down, saying that a woman should be a part (of the committee), and if we would have known, we would have definitely done it,” the six-time Member of Parliament added.

When he was reminded that such a rule already exists and an Act was passed in the Parliament to this effect in 2013, Singh replied: “Alright, I accept I have not done what I should have. Will do it in the future… whenever an incident happens, then these topics are raised.”

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