India court details sexual harassment charges against former wrestling body chief

FILE PHOTO: Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and other Indian wrestlers take part in a protest demanding the disbandment of the WFI and the investigation of its head by the police, who they accuse of sexually harassing female players, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, India, January 19, 2023. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A Delhi court on Friday informed the ex-chief of India's wrestling federation, a powerful member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party, of charges of sexual harassment and criminal intimidation against him.

Several Indian wrestlers came out in protest last year seeking criminal action against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a well-known lawmaker from Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) following complaints by female wrestlers.

Singh has denied any wrongdoing.

"I welcome the decision of the judiciary and now doors have opened for me... We will face this," Singh told reporters after the court order.

Local media reported that a Delhi judge said "the court found sufficient material on record" to frame charges of sexual harassment of five female wrestlers and with the offence of outraging their modesty.

Singh has been out on bail for nearly a year since police filed charges against him in June, prompted by a sit-in protest by some of the country's top wrestlers.

Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia, who returned one of India's highest civilian awards last year in protest over the issue, called Friday's court decision a "big victory for the struggle of women wrestlers".

"We had to sleep on the streets for many nights in the heat and rain, had to give up our good careers, only then have we been able to take a few steps forward in the fight for justice," Sakshi Malik, a 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist, said in a social media post.

She quit the sport last year after the wrestling federation elected a new president backed by Singh.

Despite the charges, Singh's son was fielded as a BJP candidate in his father's seat in India's long general election. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh had previously won the Kaiserganj seat in Uttar Pradesh state six times.

(Reporting by Tanvi Mehta, Arpan Chaturvedi and Amlan Chakraborty; Editing by Ros Russell)

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