Wrestlers, an MP and the Delhi Police Chief's Missing Conscience

Under normal circumstances, the police would have swung into action immediately after the complaint was lodged. But the accused has been airing his views openly against the alleged 'misuse' of the POCSO Act.

Amid the display of grandeur during the inauguration of the new Parliament House, two images stood out juxtaposed on TV screens – India’s champion women wrestlers pinned to the ground by security forces and a defiant Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, MP, standing in the precincts of the House.

The images vividly described the saga played out before the public since April 23 when the women wrestlers, driven to abject desperation, began a dharna at Jantar Mantar for the second time, agitating for the arrest of the MP, who is the president of the Wrestling Federation of India, on sexual harassment charges.

But the case itself appears frozen in time. The protest began in January but was lifted within days with the assurance of an inquiry by the sports minister. Both the inquiry and the investigation started on the wrong foot. Violating clear directives of the POSH Act, WFI had no internal committee to look into the sexual harassment charges – a reason enough to dismiss the officials of WFI so that they do not exert any influence over future proceedings.

It took a second protest beginning on April 23 – calling for the arrest of the accused – for an FIR to be lodged on the Supreme Court’s intervention. Taking cover under the exceptions provided by the Lalita Kumari judgment, which allows an initial inquiry when a complaint is made after a certain period, the Delhi police finally lodged two FIRs under Section 354 of the IPC (sexual assault) and Section 354D (stalking). The second offence is under Section 10 of the POCSO Act.

The POCSO Act is a special legislation meant to protect minors from sexual abuse and exploitation. Even non-reporting of a sexual assault against a minor constitutes a serious crime. The law entails that trial should be completed within a year with the special court taking cognisance. Further, the burden of proof, after the trial begins and the prosecution has established the foundations of the charge, lies with the accused.

With such provisions underlining the intent of the lawmakers behind the POCSO Act, the laggardly investigation is distressing and against all canons of justice. Forget POCSO, even the other case shows no progress. In such crimes, the first rule is to record the statements as early as possible before a magistrate. The wrestlers’ statements have been recorded, but – forget the demand for his arrest – the accused has not even been called for his statement.

Meanwhile, the accused has been airing his views openly against the alleged misuse of the POCSO Act and claiming that it was wrongly drafted by the previous government. He has even announced that changes will be made accordingly. In a public meeting, he joked about the crime being merely one of touch. (But who will decide that the touch was not inappropriate?) He suggested a polygraph test on himself and the wrestlers. A snide remark followed that Vinesh Phogat is playing the role of Manthara.

Doesn’t the government realise that such remarks will influence the investigation? Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has refused to monitor the case, which leaves the Delhi police to carry on with its slow and bizarre approach. It takes a brave Police commissioner to stand up and proceed with the investigation swiftly in cases where the accused is a powerful man of the ruling party. Neither has the political party deemed it fit to take any action against the MP nor has the central government acted against him holding the post of WFI president. Is there any further evidence required that the police should get requisite autonomy if they are expected to act against ruling party members.

Under normal circumstances, the police would have swung into action immediately after the complaint was lodged. FIRs would be registered, statements taken, evidence collected and witness statements recorded. Notice under Section 41 of the CrPc would have been slapped on the accused and arrest made citing reasons. Instead, a political slugfest is out in the open. Ludicrous theories are being aired behind lodging of FIRs – politics and lucre. Can the seven wrestling champions, holders of Olympic and world medals, fall prey to such petty gains? Can a life’s mission earned with sweat, blood and grit be frittered away under political influence?

India’s image is at stake. The world body of wrestling has threatened action. Messages of support from players from across the country and now abroad are pouring in. The image of the Delhi police is under a scanner and their options are clear – investigate with due diligence, without fear or favour, arrest the accused and file a chargesheet in court, or close the case citing lack of evidence. There is yet another option – take action against the women wrestlers for lodging a false complaint and proceed against them under Section 182/211 of the IPC. The time has come for the Delhi police commissioner to report solely to his cons


cience and act accordingly.

Yashovardhan Azad is chairman of DeepStrat, a former Central Information Commissioner and a retired IPS officer who served as secretary, security, and special director, Intelligence Bureau.

This piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.