Bajrang Punia returns Padma Shri, in open letter to PM Modi states “My fellow women wrestlers gave up sports for safety, that’s why I am returning this “honour” to you”

Both Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat recall assurances received from Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Phogat mentions meeting Shah in 2022 and informing him about Brij Bhushan's activities

Apathy shown to the plight of the women wrestlers has resulted in India losing one of its greatest women wrestlers and another wrestler returning his medal to the Prime Minister of India. On December 22, a day after wrestler Sakshi Malik quit wrestling owing to the election of Sanjay Singh as president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), Tokyo Olympics medallist Bajrang Punia returned his Padma Shri award. Around 5 pm in the evening, a video of Punia not being allowed to enter the Parliament to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi emerged on social media. In the video, Punia can be seen being stopped by the Delhi police, which resulted in him leaving the medal on the side of Kartavya Path (Rajpath). 

No, I don’t have any permission. If you can please forward this letter to the PM’s because I can’t go inside. I am not protesting nor being aggressive” Punia said as he was stopped from entering the building.

It is crucial to highlight that Punia had also written a letter addressed to the Prime Minister upon which he kept the medal. As per a report of the Telegraph, Punia told the reporters that “I am putting my medal on the letter written to PM Modi. I will not take this medal back home”. Later, police officials could be seen picking up both the letter and the medal.

These steps are in protest to the election of Singh, who is a close aid and business partner of former WFI president and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused of sexual harassment by six women wrestlers. Through the protest by women wrestlers against Brij Bhushan, Punia was a constant supporter. With Singh being elected, the wrestlers have been emphasising that the culture of abuse and harassment of women wrestlers will continue. It is crucial to note here that Brij Bhushan himself had nominated Singh’s name for the election. 

Minutes prior to this, Bajrang Punia took to ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) to announce his decision of returning his Padma Shri award, which was conferred upon him in the year 2019. Punia has won multiple medals for India at the World and Asian Championships apart from the Asian Games. On social media, Punia wrote “I am returning my Padmashree award to the Prime Minister.” With his post, he also attached the letter that he wrote to the Prime Minister. “This is just my letter. This is my statement,” he wrote on his social media post. 

The open letter was written in Hindi, but has been translated to English for this article. Addressing it to the Prime Minister, Punia wrote “Respected Prime Minister, hope you are well. You will be busy serving the country. Amidst your busy schedule, I would like to draw your attention to our sport of wrestling.”

With this, Punia referred to the beginning of the protest by women wrestlers in the month of January, when the allegations of sexual harassment being levied against Brij Bhushan had come forth. He wrote “You must be aware that in the month of January this year, the women wrestlers of our country had made serious allegations of sexual harassment against Brij Bhushan Singh, who was in charge of the wrestling federation. When the movement started, I also joined it. The agitating wrestlers returned to their homes in January when the government assured them of taking concrete action. But even after three months, when an FIR was not filed against Brij Bhushan, we took to the streets again in the month of April, and protested asking the Delhi Police to at least register an FIR against Brij Bhushan Singh. But things still did not work out, so we had to go to court. We had to go and lodge an FIR.”

The Olympic medallist then refers to the pressure that the women complainants went through at the hands of Brij Bhushan. As stated in this letter, from the month of January to July, the number of complaints dwindled down to 6 from the initial 19. “In January, the number of women wrestlers (complainants) was 19, which came down to 7 by April. That is, in three months, with his power, Brij Bhushan Singh had repelled 12 women wrestlers in their fight for justice. The movement lasted for 40 days. In these 40 days, one female wrestler further retreated.”

Punia further refers to the pressure faced by the protestors at the hand of the administration, and writes “There was a lot of pressure on all of us. Our protest site was destroyed and we were chased out of Delhi and our protest was banned. When this happened, we had no idea what to do. That’s why we thought of shedding our medals in the Ganga. When we went there, our coaches and the farmers did not allow us to do so.”

Furthermore, Punia referred to the assurances given to them by the union Home Ministers and other ministers regarding future steps that will be taken against Brij Bhushan and his supporters, which they had trusted and put a paused to protests. In his letter, he wrote “At the same time, we received a call came from one of your responsible ministers and we were told to come back. That justice would be done. Meanwhile, we also met our Home Minister, where he assured us that he will support the women wrestlers in getting justice and will expel Brij Bhushan, his family and his henchmen from the Wrestling Federation. We accepted his advice and ended our movement from the streets, because the government would resolve the wrestling union and the fight for justice would be fought in the court. These two things seemed logical to us.”

Punia then refers to the election of Brij Bhushna’s loyalist as a victory for Brij Bhushan himself. He stated “But in the wrestling federation elections held on December 21, Brij Bhushan has once again won. He gave the statement that “there is dominance and there will be dominance.” A person accused of sexual exploitation of female wrestlers was again openly claiming his dominance over the body that manages wrestling. Under this mental pressure, Sakshi Malik, the only woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal, was forced to retired from wrestling.”

Speaking about the helplessness that the wrestlers feel, Punia wrote “All of us spent the night crying. We couldn’t understand where to go, what to do and how to live.”

Regarding his decision to return the award, Punia stated “The government and the people gave us so much respect. Should I continue to suffocate under the burden of this respect? In the year 2019, I was awarded the Padma Shri and was also honoured with the Khel Ratna and the Arjuna Award. I was very happy when I received these honours. It seemed my life had been successful. But today I am more unhappy than before and these honours are hurting me. There is only one reason. My fellow women wrestlers have to give up the sport of wrestling for their safety. The same sport which gave me this honour.”

Emphasising the role that women sports athletes play, Punia wrote “Sports had brought tremendous changes in the lives of our women players. Earlier, one could not even imagine that, in rural India, that boys and girls would be seen playing together in fields. But this could happen because of the courage of the first-generation of women players. Now you will see girls playing in every village and they are even going abroad to play.”

It is pertinent to highlight here that when the election results came to the forefront, pictures and videos showing Brij Bhushan wearing multiple garlands around his neck, being surrounded by men chanting his name and posing for the camera were floating around social media. Next to Brij Bhushan, the newly elected WFI president, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Sanjay Singh could be seen standing with a huge smile plastered on his face. Both Brij Bhushan and Singh could be seen flashing a victory sign at the cameras. Punia refers to the said pictures of Brij Bhushan and Singh, and states “But those who continue to dominate the sport, where even their shadow scares the women players have now completely taken over again. The photo of them with flowers and garlands around their necks must have reached you. The daughters who were to become the brand ambassadors of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao have been put in such a situation that they have to step back from their game.”

Referring to his dismay and helplessness, Punia states “We “respected” wrestlers could not do anything. I will not be able to live my life as a “respected” person after our female wrestlers were insulted. Such a life will torment me. That’s why I am returning this “honour” to you. Whenever we used to go to any program, the stage director would introduce us by calling us Padma Shri, Khel Ratna and Arjun awardee wrestlers and people would clap with great enthusiasm. Now if someone calls me like this, I will feel disgusted because despite having so much respect, a female wrestler was deprived of the respectable life that everyone wants to live.”

Punia ends the letter by stating that it is his hope that justice will one day prevail. He states “I have full faith in God, there is delay in his house but not darkness. One day justice will definitely triumph over injustice.”

He signs the letter by writing “Bajrang Punia, Asammanit Pehelwan (Disrespected wrestler)”

The letter can be accessed here:

Last year, Union Home Minister had assured us to wait for 30-40 days after we told him everything about what Brij Bhushan was up to: Vinesh Phogat

A report of the Indian Express stated that Vinesh Phogat, who was also at the forefront of the protests along with Sakshi Malik, Sangeeta Phogat and Punia, referred to retiring or returning the award as the “final, desperate step” that any athlete can take.

“Bajrang, Sakshi and I were together just before the elections were taking place. We discussed the possibility of Sanjay Singh winning and Sakshi immediately said if that happened, she would not be able to continue wrestling. She broke down as she said that and looking at her, even Bajrang began crying,” Phogat was reported as telling The Indian Express.

As per the report, Phogat stated that the wrestlers felt let down by the government as they had promised to take action against Brij Bhushan and ensure neither his family members nor close aides would be a part of the federation, and yet Singh has not become the president of WFI.

According to the report, Vinesh then recalls the meeting that she and Punia had with Union Home Minister Amit Shah in 2022 after they had won the bronze medal at the World Championship. As per Phogat, “Bajrang and I met Home Minister Amit Shah at his official residence. It was just the three of us and Babita Phogat in that meeting. We informed him about everything that Brij Bhushan was up to. We even gave him the names of the girls who had been his victims. He asked us to wait for 30-40 days and told us not to worry about it.” Notably, Babita Phogat, a member of the BJP, had not supported the wrestlers in their protest against Brij Bhushan.

Phogat told the IE that the government kept giving them repeated assurances until they stopped answering their calls. Vinesh also said that they would not be engaging with the new WFI president Sanjay Singh as he considers Brij Bhushan as his “brother”. Referring to the garlanded pictures of Brij Bhushan, she said “Who is Sanjay Singh? Who was wearing garlands after the elections?” 

On her position regarding retiring from the sport, Phogat said that would retire, if at all, “on her terms”. As per the IE report, she asserted that “If I quit, it will be my decision not because of anyone’s dadagiri. We will continue our fight. Brij Bhushan’s ego is too big. But it’s the ego that will lead to his eventual downfall.” 


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Clear case of re-victimisation: Former SC judge Madan B Lokur on Delhi Police’s handling of women wrestlers case

Protesting wrestlers will resume stir, say govt not ready to arrest WFI chief by June 15

Mumbai: Silent protest organised to condemn the injustice meted out to women wrestlers

FIRs suggest wrestlers had informed PM about their repeated sexual trauma in 2021



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