Delhi police’s conduct against wrestlers vindictive, say former SC judges

The wrestlers were peacefully protesting and demanding the arrest of Wrestling Federation chief in a case of sexual harassment when they were dragged and arrested by police

May 30, 2023 10:37 am | Updated 12:09 pm IST - Mumbai

Wrestler Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sangeeta Phogat with others during their protest march Jantar Mantar to Parliament House, near WFI Chief’s residence,  in New Delhi on Sunday.

Wrestler Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sangeeta Phogat with others during their protest march Jantar Mantar to Parliament House, near WFI Chief’s residence, in New Delhi on Sunday. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

A day after the Delhi police forcibly dragged and arrested world-renowned wrestlers who were peacefully protesting and demanding the arrest of six-time BJP MP and three-time president of the Wrestling Federation of India, Brijbhushan Singh, in a case of sexual harassment, retired Supreme Court judges say the conduct of the police is “vindictive and disappointing.”

On May 28, Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, and Asian Games Gold medallist Vineesh Phogat, and Sangeeta Phogat, were sitting on the 35th day of their dharna at Jantar Mantar, demanding the arrest of Mr. Singh. However, they were dragged, forcibly pushed to the ground, manhandled, thrown into buses while they were preparing to go to Mahila Samman Mahapanchayat near the new Parliament Building.

‘Feeling of disgust’

Justice Madan Lokur (retired) said, “The manner in which the wrestlers were evicted from Jantar Mantar is terrible. From the videos that are available, it appears that they have been physically manhandled by a large number of police officers. Follow-up action is even worse with their belongings having been taken away and the tents pulled down. That they have not been allowed to return to Jantar Mantar is a clear indication that the action is vindictive and further intended to teach not only the wrestlers but others a lesson. The whole episode leaves a feeling of disgust at what the police have done and are continuing to do.”

Justice Lokur continued to talk about the pace of the investigation in the case and said, “The manner in which the investigation is proceeding in the case leaves a lot to be desired. Firstly, the pace is very slow and secondly it appears that no progress has been made in the investigation. A serious offence of this nature must be investigated with all due seriousness and dispatch, but that is not happening.”

A First Information Report (FIR) was registered against Mr. Singh after the wrestlers moved the Supreme Court, urging the court for a direction to the Delhi police to do so. On April 30, two FIRs were registered against Mr. Singh under the Indian Penal Code and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).

Justice Kurien Joseph (retired) said in a sexual harassment case it was essential that a person was taken into custody. “In all matters relating to sexual harassment cases because the accused can very easily influence people who will be giving evidence, it is essential that the police arrest him, produce him before a magistrate, seek for his judicial custody, gather statements of victims while he is in custody, file a chargesheet, then he can obtain bail. If you let the accused go scot-free in cases like these, without securing his custody, you are allowing him to influence everyone to prevent them from giving statements. In a sexual harassment case it is essential that a person is taken into custody. The statement of the witness is crucial and that should be done when the person is inside. It is disappointing to see that the Delhi Police are letting him loiter around.”

He went on to say, “The whole thing is politically driven. A simple step where a FIR needs to be lodged in offences involving sexual misconduct, the wrestlers had to approach the Supreme Court, it does not say much about the investigation.”

Talking about the charge of POCSO on Mr. Singh, Justice A.K. Sikri (retired) said, “In a POCSO case, which deals with sexual abuse of a minor, the law is very strict and an arrest should be made. In this case, even the FIR was not filed easily.” Commenting on the conduct of the Delhi Police, Justice Sikri said, “It is for everyone to see, there is prejudice at the face of it. Even if it is an MP, everyone is equal in the eyes of law. Howsoever influential he may be, if he has done some wrong, he must be dealt with sternly.”

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