Media Chaos Surrounds Wrestlers' Protest as Conflicting Reports and Rumors Abound

Sangeeta Phogat taken to accused MP's official residence for re-enactment of series of events of sexual harrasment.
Media Chaos Surrounds Wrestlers' Protest as Conflicting Reports and Rumors Abound

New Delhi— The wrestlers' protest is temporarily on a halt. Following a meeting with sports minister Anurag Thakur on Wednesday evening, the wrestlers ultimately agreed to postpone their protest until June 15 until the police completed investigation on the sexual assault charges against WFI chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

Meanwhile, the police is proceeding with the investigation. In order to re-enact the series of events that led to the alleged sexual harassment by WFI chairman Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, Delhi Police brought wrestler Sangeeta Phogat to his official residence on Friday. She was accompanied by female constables.

Vinesh Phogat tweeted about the same after there were news that wrestlers met Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh in order to do the settlement, her tweet read, “This is the power of Brij Bhushan. He is busy harassing women wrestlers by using his muscle power, political power and false narratives, so his arrest is necessary. If the police arrest him instead of breaking us, there is hope of justice, otherwise not. Women wrestlers had gone to the crime site for police investigation, but it was run in the media that they had gone to compromise.”

Chaotic media reportage; complaint withdrawal by minor

The protest had been surrounded by various rumors since the grapplers were compelled to leave the protest site at Jantar Mantar in Delhi.

Conflicting reports have emerged, claiming that the wrestlers have withdrawn their protest, resigned from their government jobs, rejoined , retracted their complaints, and so on. The withdrawal of a complaint by a minor wrestler has further raised questions about the protest and its course of action.

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The focus of the entire protest was the minor wrestler's complaint, particularly in relation to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. 

This week, several news outlets, citing anonymous sources, reported that some wrestlers had discontinued their protest and that the young wrestler had modified her initial complaint against Singh. However, other news outlets, relying on statements from the wrestlers themselves and their relatives, refuted these claims. This highlights the ongoing media narrative battle surrounding the protest.

The Mooknayak attempted to contact prominent wrestler Bajrang Punia and the Wrestler's coordinator for comments but received no response.

Survey: Controversy harming the BJP

A recent poll conducted by research firm CVoter revealed that more than 63% of respondents believed that the controversy would harm the BJP.

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Approximately 66.5% of those surveyed trusted the wrestlers' accounts, and over 54% of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance supporters sided with the wrestlers rather than Singh. Furthermore, nearly 59% of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the response of the Delhi Police, which reports to the Union Home Ministry.

The Modi administration has escalated its efforts to quell the protest in the past week, forcefully clearing the protest site on May 28. 

Complainant cannot retract statement under POCSO Act

Amidst the controversy, The Mooknayak consulted lawyer and activist Nutan Thakur to shed light on the legalities surrounding the POCSO complaint and the possibility of withdrawing it.

Nutan Thakur argued that calling the juvenile wrestler's second statement to the magistrate a "withdrawal" of the allegations or complaint is a legal fallacy, even if the minor did make a second statement. 

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She highlighted that the media, which largely appeases the Union government's power, confuses public perception through such reporting.

In April 2023, the minor wrestler, along with six others, filed complaints against Brij Bhushan. According to Nutan Thakur, under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), statements made by the minor wrestler are recorded before a magistrate. 

These statements hold admissible value as evidence since they were given to a magistrate and signed by the person making them. However, the validity of the claims will be determined by a criminal trial court, and no complainant has the right to retract their complaint by making a contradictory statement. 

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Nutan Thakur further alleged that the government is attempting to shield Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh due to his influential position within the BJP, and she expressed concern that the government may try to shift blame onto the wrestlers over time.

When questioned about the course of the POCSO complaint, Nutan Thakur clarified that technically, an arrest should be made immediately after registering a complaint, and the burden of proof lies with the accused. 

Regarding Brij Bhushan, Nutan stated that it is alarming that he is currently free and able to tamper with evidence given his position.

The accused, Brij Bhushan, has been charged with multiple sections of the Indian Penal Code and Section 10 (aggravated sexual assault on a juvenile) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Brij Bhushan, a six-time BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh and the head of the WFI, has attempted to defend himself by alleging abuse of the POCSO Act and advocating for its amendment.

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