From deathly silence to violence: The journey of wrestlers struggling for justice

Civil liberties platform condemns arrest of women wrestlers and other activists
New Delhi: Wrestler Sakshi Malik being detained by police during wrestlers' protest march towards new Parliament building, in New Delhi, Sunday, May 28, 2023.(Photo:IANS/Twitter)

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has strongly condemned the brutal manner by which the Delhi Police forcibly arrested the women wrestlers yesterday, May 28, 2023, as they prepared to go from Jantar Mantar where they have been protesting peacefully since April 23, 2023, to the `Mahila Samman Mahapanchayat’ near the new Parliament Building. Without any sense of respect to their contribution to Indian sports, protesting wrestlers, all champions — Olympic medalists Bajranj Punia and Sakshi Malik, and Asian Games Gold medalist, Vinesh Phogat, and Sangeeta Phogat, who were sitting in the 35th day of their dharna, demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and others were, summarily dragged, forcibly pushed to the ground, manhandled, thrown into buses and removed to unknown destinations.

Soon thereafter, the protest site at Jantar Mantar where the women wrestlers have been protesting since 23rd April, 2023 had the tents dismantled, their belongings including their beddings and coolers thrown away and the protest site cleared by the Delhi police.

Ironically, even as the wrestlers were being forcibly removed from Jantar Mantar, the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was making grandiose announcements in the newly opened Parliament building about India not only being the mother of Democracies but also being a model for other democracies!

The PUCL statement issued by Kavita Srivastava, president and Dr. V. Suresh, general secretary states that “the aggressive and violent action of the Delhi Police stands in contrast to the reluctance of the Central Government to act against the six times BJP MP and three times ex-President of the Wrestlers Federation of India, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, for sexual violence against young women wrestlers. This, despite all the seven complainant women wrestlers, including a minor, recording their statements before the concerned Judicial Magistrate under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code.”

Apart from the wrestlers, all the groups who lent their support to the demand of arrest of the accused and came out to participate in the Mahila Samman Panchayat, outside the new Parliament building in several hundreds, were detained.   They included former MP Subhashini Ali, Annie Raja, Kawaljeet Kaur and Dipti Bharti of the National Federation of Indian women, Poonam of Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan, Sucheta De of CPIML (L) and AICCTU, Jagmati Sangwan and Maimoona Mollah of AIDWA, activists Maya John and others of CSW, Purogami Mahila Samiti and AIMSS activists Ritu Kaushik and others, Krantikari Yuva Sangathan activists, JNU students, AISA, NSUI activists were also picked up.

Supporting farmer leaders were either detained in Haryana or Punjab itself or picked up from the protest site at Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur border. Those picked up from the Haryana borders of Singhu and Tikri included Charanjit Kaur Dhulia, Davinder Kaur Hardaspura, Gurnam Singh Chaudhuri, Amarjit Singh Mohri, Ravi Azad and Jagdeep Aulakh. They also arrested leaders from the Binen Khaps and others in Haryana. Several journalists and bloggers were also picked up, notable amongst them was freelancer Mandeep Punia. Lawyers who were trying to provide legal assistance, including Vertika Mani Tripathi, Abhishist Hela and others, were kept in the dark and not allowed to enter the police stations and meet the detainees. The detainees were kept in more than a dozen police stations, mostly in the outskirts of Delhi.

What was very disturbing was that the four wrestlers were separated and sent to four different police stations and subjected to intimidation and to illegal detention and isolation. The whole idea was to break their morale and demotivate them from returning back to the protest. Even as we release this Press Note, they and other women activists continue to be under illegal detention.

The strong-arm tactics used by the BJP led Central Government through the Delhi police against the women wrestlers ironically exposes the lie of the BJP government as being committed towards justice for women, protecting their dignity and democratic rights.  What is clear is that:

  1. The BJP Government and the Delhi police showed its true anti-women and anti-democratic character by preventing and trying to crush what has been a very peaceful, violence-free and orderly protest of women wrestlers whose only request is to enforce the law against a person who has sexually inflicted violence on them, including ensuring the mandatory arrest of the perpetrator under POCSO.
  2. It is very much a part of the fundamental right of the women wrestlers to peacefully demand accountability and express their protest against the inaction of the Delhi police under the Ministry of Home Affairs to arrest Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The women wrestlers have been demanding action since January, 2023. No justice came their way, despite being subjected to two illegal Complaint Committees regarding sexual harassment. It was only thereafter that on 23rd April, 2023 they were forced to make their grievances public by staging their protest in Jantar Mantar. The deathly silence of the ruling Modi regime continues to date.
  3. The reluctance to act on the part of the Modi government to enforce the law against wrongdoers from its own ranks is made clear when we see that the FIR itself came to be lodged only when the wrestlers filed a petition in the SC and the CJI’s Bench ordered registration of a FIR.
  1. What is indicative and best exemplifies the authoritarian, anti-women and anti-democratic mind-set of the Central Government and the Delhi police to the citizen’s fundamental right to protest is the action of the Delhi police who dubbed the protest of the women wrestlers as constituting anti-national act, as it was marring the day when the PM was inaugurating the new Parliament!

How the protests of the women wrestlers seeking fair implementation of the law against a sexual predator can ever constitute an `anti-national’ act belies logic and only exhibits the ignorance to constitutional norms and proprieties.

Vinesh Phogat very poignantly summed up the mood of the protestors in her statement published by the Hindu to the effect that,

“The accused is roaming free, he is being sheltered by the government and we athletes who won medals for the country are now being put in jail for demanding justice for the country’s daughters”.

The civil liberties platform has called upon all citizens groups, women’s, farmers, students, workers, lawyers and other groups to continue being united and demand justice for the agitating women wrestlers and unequivocally condemn the brute force used by the Delhi police to arrest the women wrestlers and others and dismantle their protest site. The PUCL has also demanded that the wrestlers protest site be restored and they be allowed to peacefully agitate by exercising their democratic rights. Besides, all criminal cases registered today, against the women wrestlers and activists be dropped and Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh be immediately arrested.

Strict action should also be taken against those police functionaries who indulged in illegal action and brutal use of force against peaceful protestors.


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