India’s outgoing wrestling chief has been charged in court after months of protests by the country’s top wrestlers who accuse him of sexual harassment.
Police have charged Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh with stalking, harassment and intimidation as well as making “sexually coloured remarks”.
Mr Singh, an influential MP from the ruling BJP party, denies the charges.
However, police have suggested dropping charges involving a minor, which would have made his arrest imminent.
“No corroborative evidence” was found in allegations by the minor after a detailed investigation in the case, the prosecution lawyer said on Thursday.
The protests had made headlines globally, especially after the police detained the wrestlers as they tried to march to India’s new parliament building in the capital Delhi.
Footage of the Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia and two-time world champion medallist Vinesh Phogat being dragged in the streets and carried off in police vans went viral, sparking criticism from top athletes and opposition politicians.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also condemned the way the wrestlers were being treated and called for an impartial inquiry into their complaints.
The wrestlers, who had been sitting on protests since April, agreed to pause their protests earlier this month after meeting Home Minister Amit Shah and Sports Minister Anurag Thakur.
Mr Thakur had assured them that charges would be filed against Mr Singh by 15 June.
Seven female wrestlers, including the minor, had filed complaints with the police accusing Mr Singh of molesting and groping them at training camps and tournaments. In the case of the minor, police had invoked the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act.
Mr Singh, who has denied all the allegations, accuses the wrestlers of being “politically motivated” and recently said he would “hang himself even if a single allegation is proved” against him.
On Thursday, Delhi police submitted two separate sets of documents in two different courts – a 1,000-page charge sheet detailing their investigation into the overall allegations and a second shorter one in the case of the minor complainant.
In the past few days, reports said the minor had withdrawn her allegations amid reports that she had been “pressurised into withdrawing the charges”. Mr Singh had refused to comment on the allegations, saying “let law take its course”.
Legal experts say now it’s up to the judge to decide whether to accept the recommendation and close the case or not. The case will be heard on 4 July.
On Thursday, as details of charges against Mr Singh began to be revealed, legal experts and analysts said most of them were bailable offences – which means Mr Singh is unlikely to be arrested soon.
The wrestlers held their first protest in January but called it off after Mr Singh was stripped of his administrative powers by the sports ministry and the government promised to investigate their complaints. After the government did not reveal the findings of the oversight panel that investigated their allegations, the wrestlers resumed their protest in April, also calling for his arrest.
Last month, they threatened to throw their medals into the Ganges – India’s holiest river. But leaders of an influential farming group, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), persuaded them not to do so just yet, saying they would launch nationwide protests if Mr Singh was not arrested.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticised for not acting strongly or swiftly enough against Mr Singh as he’s a member of the governing party. The government has denied the charge and said law will take its course.