Supreme Court closes wrestlers’ petition, says ‘purpose fulfilled’ with FIR registration against WFI chief

Counsel for certain wrestler–complainants opposed the closing of the proceedings, but the Supreme Court only granted them liberty to move lower courts.

THE Supreme Court today closed the proceedings instituted on a petition filed by three women wrestlers, stating that the purpose of the petition has been fulfilled with the registration of two first information reports (FIR) against Wrestling Federation of India president and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of Parliament Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

After Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta informed the court on April 28 of the Delhi Police’s changed stance regarding the filing of FIRs against Singh, two FIRs were registered against him at the Connaught Place police station in New Delhi: one, under Sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage modesty), 354A (sexual harassment), 354D (stalking) and Section 34 (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the other under Section 10 (aggravated sexual assault) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.

Separate FIRs were registered since one of the seven female wrestlers who have accused Singh of sexual harassment is a minor. The title of the proceedings before the Supreme Court, XYZ & Ors versus State NCT of Delhi & Ors, was also anonymised for the same reason.

Mehta opposed the continuation of the proceedings before the Supreme Court, stating, “If at every stage … the complaints come here, it would not serve the ends of justice… We are doing our best neutrally, completely impartially and independently.”

The court, however, clarified that for seeking any further relief, the petitioners must either move the judicial magistrate presiding over the trial, or the Delhi High Court under Article 226 (power of high courts to issue writs) of the Constitution or Section 482 (inherent powers of high courts) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

Senior advocate Narender Hooda, appearing for three of the complainants, raised an objection to the closing of proceedings. “Keeping in view the conduct of Delhi Police from April 21 till date,” he requested the court to have the probe monitored either by a retired Supreme Court or high court judge “because I’m sure, without any confusion, that the moment these proceedings are disposed of, the Delhi Police will drag its feet.

The Bench, which comprised Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, refused the above request. “We’re closing it at this stage, but we have given you liberty to either move the judicial magistrate or the high court… This petition was filed for the registration of an FIR. That purpose of the petition has been fulfilled. We’re not saying that this is not worthy of being monitored. We have confined ourselves to what came before us.”

Security to the complainants

On April 28, a division Bench of the Supreme Court had directed the commissioner of police, Delhi to undertake a threat perception assessment of the minor alleged victim to ensure her protection. It was clarified by the Bench that the direction on security to the alleged minor victim “shall not stand in the way” of the Delhi commissioner of police undertaking similar assessment for the other alleged victims.

Mehta today informed the court that adequate security arrangements have been made for the minor complainant, who resides in Rohtak, Haryana. Armed police personnel have been deployed in addition to a private vehicle to reduce the chances of disclosure of her identity, the deputy commissioner of police, New Delhi stated in an affidavit filed today, in pursuance of the court’s direction.

With regard to the adult complainants, a threat perception assessment carried out by the ‘special cell’ of the Delhi police found “no specific threat”, yet it was recommended that in view of the ongoing demonstrations by wrestlers and their allies at Jantar Mantar against Singh, it would be reasonable to provide them security “for some time”. Accordingly, security has been provided to all six adult complainants, it was submitted.

Interviews to the media

Senior advocate Harish Salve appeared “as an intervener on behalf of Bhushan Singh” through video conferencing and lamented that even after the registrations of the FIRs, “more personal allegations are being made”.

To this, Hooda retorted that Singh has been preoccupied with giving interviews to “every TV channel”, and is revealing the names of the complainants and claiming without evidence that third-party forces are behind the wrestlers’ protest. “This court has previously directed that the identities of the complainants have to be protected,” he said.

Mehta then broke in to add, “Complainants are giving interviews to the media. What identity are we talking about?”, attempting to argue that the identities of the adult complainants is already apparent.

Complainants are sitting on a protest,” Salve added, also attempting to establish the above.

Protest continues

Women wrestlers and allied individuals began a dharna at Jantar Mantar in January this year demanding action against Singh. On January 20, taking cognisance of the allegations of sexual harassment, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), led by retired Indian track and field athlete and nominated Member of Rajya Sabha P.T. Usha, formed a seven-member committee, headed by boxer and former Member of Rajya Sabha M.C. Mary Kom, to probe the charges.

The report drafted by the Mary Kom oversight committee is yet to be made public, a fact mentioned by Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for certain complainants, during the last hearing.

The wrestlers had decided to call off the protest in January after two rounds of talks with the Union Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Anurag S. Thakur. An oversight committee was thereafter formed, as noted above.

However, seeing no action being taken against Singh, wrestlers decided to resume their protests earlier this month.

Last week, P.T. Usha had questioned the ‘discipline’ of those protesting in Delhi. “The IOA has an athlete’s commission in place and instead of hitting the streets, these wrestlers should’ve come to us. The athletes should be disciplined. If their problems are real, they should have come to us earlier. If they were not satisfied, then they could have gone anywhere,” Usha had said.

Responding to the same, Olympic bronze medallist freestyle wrestler Bajrang Punia, who has been part of the protests, retorted, “[She’s] calling us indisciplined (sic). This is not a wrestling bout. This is a fight for all the athletes in the country who can fight united because India’s daughters are being exploited.”

Wrestlers will continue to stay at Jantar Mantar. Fight does not end at the FIR”, said Olympic bronze medallist freestyle wrestler Sakshi Malik after the Supreme Court hearing on April 28.

Women wrestlers and allied individuals continue to sit in at Jantar Mantar, Delhi demanding Singh to resign from his official post as the WFI President so that investigation and trial against him could take place fairly and without influence.

Last night, it was reported that a scuffle broke out between some of the protesting wrestlers and Delhi Police officials at the protest site, following which the police detained four individuals, including Indian National Congress’s member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) from Haryana, Deepender Singh Hooda; and Aam Aadmi Party’s member of Delhi Legislative Assembly, Somnath Bharti.