Yesterday, on May 30, the protesting wrestlers, Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi malik, Sangeeta Phogat, and Bajrang Punia along with others, had issued a statement that as a mark of protest against WFI chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over sexual harassment and POCSO ((Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) allegations as well as the manhandling that they had to face at the hands of Delhi Police during their peaceful protest, they were going to immerse their medals in the Holy Ganges river.
The wrestlers had reached Haridwar at 6 pm to immerse their medals, from where heart-wrenching videos of wrestlers weeping over their plight were watched by millions on social media. Almost an hour later, farmer leader Naresh Tikait reached the spot and urged them emotionally not to throw away their medals. Tikait intervened, drew their medals from them, and sought a five-day time from the protesting grapplers to address their grievances.
The suffering and the plight of the protesting wrestlers, who have had to endure systematic violence, ignorance and apathy at the hands of the Delhi police and representatives of the union government whose radio silence around the champions’ protests has been telling. It has also been a wake-up call.
The May 28 crass brutality of the Delhi police (that is controlled directly by the ministry of home affairs under the union government) has shaken many who were previously silent. The contrast could not have been more stark: the cloak of powerful immunity accorded to the POCSO accused BJP MP, Brij Bhusan Singh who triumphantly participated in the inauguration of the “new Parliament” on an invitation from the Prime Minister and the brute manhandling and misbehaviour with the women Olympic champions protesting for their dignity and rights. Both on Sunday May 28.
Many organisations, political leaders, sportspersons, and celebrities have come out in support of the protesting wrestlers.
Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal slammed the government over the issue of allegations of sexual harassment levelled by women wrestlers against WFI president Brij Bhushan Singh, and asked whether POCSO and immediate arrest apply to all accused other than Singh because he belongs to the BJP. Kapil Sibal is the senior advocate who has previously represented the protesting wrestlers when they had approached the Supreme Court to demand that a FIR be registered against Singh. While it took an order from the Supreme Court to even get an FIR filed against Singh, the same police was quick and prompt in booking the wrestlers for “violating law and order,” within ten hours! This FIR was filed under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 147, 149, 186, 188, 332, 353, Section 3 of the PDPP Act, said Delhi Police.
Naresh Tikait, the head of Balyan khap, said a ‘mahapanchayat’ will now be held in Muzaffarnagar’s Soram village on June 1 to discuss the ongoing protest by wrestlers against WFI. Tikait further provided that several representatives of different khaps and their heads hailing from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab Rajasthan and Delhi will be participating in the mahapanchayat to decide the next course of action in the wrestlers protest.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella group of nearly 40 farmers’ unions, on Tuesday called for nationwide demonstrations on June 1 to support the protesting wrestlers, Sabrangindia has reported. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha said that nationwide protests will be held to “secure the democratic right to protest by the Indian wrestlers and all other sections of society” and demand Singh’s arrest. “The morcha will coordinate with platforms of trade unions, women, youth, students and all other sections, including intellectuals, to stage demonstrations across India,” it said.
The Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and the Students Federation of India (SFI) jointly declared a nationwide protest in support of the wrestler’s protest from June 4. “DYFI and SFI demanded the immediate arrest of Brij Bhushan and to withdraw all false cases against the wrestlers immediately. Through this protest, we demand that the Prime minister should apologize for the police violence unleashed upon wrestlers,” DYFI national president AA Rahim said.
The sport fraternity finally speaks up- National and International
In a statement on the night of May 30, the International Olympic Committee has condemned the way India’s top wrestlers are being treated during their ongoing protest. In their statement, the IOC has “urged the safety and wellbeing of these athletes” and called for “a speedy conclusion” of the investigation. The IOC spokesperson from Lausanne, Switzerland, also said that the “treatment” meted out to the athletes over the weekend, when they were manhandled and detained for hours, was “very disturbing.” The IOC also urged the IOA, headed by P T Usha, which has been conspicuous by its silence so far, to “protect the athletes
It further said that it had been in close contact with United World Wrestling (UWW) – the international organisation governing amateur wrestling – over the situation.
The UWW had also, prior to the IOC, issued a statement on Tuesday saying that it was following “with great concern” the wrestlers’ protests “over allegations of abuse and harassment by the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI)”.
“It expresses its disappointment over the lack of results of the investigations so far,” the statement said and added that the UWW would hold a meeting with the wrestlers to inquire about their safety and “reconfirm our support for a fair and just resolution of their concerns”.
The UWW also said that it might suspend the WFI if its upcoming elections were not held on time. As provided by the Indian Express, the IOC and the United World Wrestling are considering holding a joint virtual meeting with the protesting wrestlers.
A veteran of the cricketing fraternity of India, cricketer, Anil Kumble also joined other big sportspersons like Neeraj Chopra, Abhinav Bindra, Sunil Chhetri, who have voiced their support for wrestlers and expressed disappointment over how they were treated on the day India celebrated its new Parliament. Other cricketing icons of the country, even playing the popular IPL tournament that ended only on May 29 post mid-night have been conspicuously silent.
Support flows in from the film industry
A number of celebrities have also expressed their support for the protest, despite their reputation for being oblivious to their surroundings and indifferent to protests and societal movements. The ongoing wrestlers’ protest has captured the attention of many people working in various film industries across the country, as more and more people express their support through social media platforms and in interviews. Senior actor Naseeruddin Shah recently expressed his support for the protesting wrestlers and wondered if a film about these athletes would be made. Shah also stated that the Hindi film industry was never one to roll up its sleeves and confront problems head on.
“When has the Hindi film industry ever rolled up its sleeves and tackled a subject which is crying out to be tackled? Will anyone make a film on these girl wrestlers who brought us medals…? Will anyone dare make a film? Because they are scared of the repercussions. It is nothing new that the Hindi film industry is keeping mum on important issues, they always have,” the actor told PTI in an interview.
Sharing a collage showing security personnel detaining wrestlers Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Sangeeta Phogat by using force, Malayalam actor Tovino Thomas wrote on Instagram, “They are the ones who uplifted our reputation in international sports arenas. They gave colours of success to the hopes of an entire nation! Keep aside their achievements and accolades, but there is a justice that each and every citizen of this nation deserves. They should not be deprived of that justice. They should not be defeated just because those standing on the opposite side are strong. They should be heard and their demands should be considered. Justice should not be delayed, never be denied! Jai Hind.”
Renowned Tamil director Pa Ranjith, filmmaker Onir, actor Kamal Hassan, actor Swara Bhaskar, actor Ritika Singh, Uorfi Javed, actor Vidyut Jammwal and Malayalam director Anjali Menon too had recently extended solidarity with the protesting athletes.
The government saves face, spreads misinformation
The BJP government, which is at the centre and has been indirectly shielding Singh from having to bear any consequences provided under law, has been keeping mum about the whole issue of the wrestling protesters. The Congress claimed the BJP’s slogan of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ now means ‘Beti BJP ke netaon se bachao’ (save daughters from BJP leaders)’ and also hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not making an appeal to the protesting wrestlers urging them not to immerse their medals in the Ganga.
The month-long protest of wrestlers even forced union minister Meenakshi Lekhi to do a little jog –run away from questions on the matter by media persons. She was seen walking briskly and then running when asked to comment on the issue. “Chalo, chalo, chalo,” the minister said as she was rushing towards her car. The union minister was chased by a media reporter who kept asking for comments on protesting wrestlers. “What do you have to say on the protesting wrestlers?” she was asked. To this, Meenakshi Lekhi responded that the ‘legal process is going on’.
The video can be viewed here:
पहलवानों से जुड़े सवाल से बचने के लिए मीनाक्षी लेखी भागने लगीं.
मीनाक्षी जी मोदी सरकार की मंत्री हैं. pic.twitter.com/YWyUXjx2on
— Ranvijay Singh (@ranvijaylive) May 30, 2023
A similar statement was also given by Smriti Irani, the union minister of Women and Child Development, urging the protestors to wait for the legal process. Ironically, the same government that has on multiple occasions supported the taking law into their own hands, be it the extra-judicial killing of accused and convicts, declaring any dissenter as terrorist, or demolishing “illegal” structures even as the court cases are ongoing, are now appealing for the citizens and media to wait till the law take its course.
It is essential to note that while wrestlers have had to fight a battle for exercising their rights on a daily basis, Singh has been brazenly giving interviews, and issuing statements. Reacting to the intention of the protestors to immerse their medals in the river, Singh said that the wrestlers immersing their medals in the Ganga would not make the court “hang” him.
“Immersing your (wrestlers) medals in Ganga won’t make the court hang me. Present your proof to the court, and if they choose to hang me, I will accept,” WFI chief Brij Bhushan Singh said while addressing a gathering.
A particular group of people are also busy making up stories and controversies regarding this whole issue. Earlier today, a news was circulating stating that the police had not found sufficient evidence in favour of the allegations levelled against Singh by female wrestlers and that it will submit the report within 15 days. As the news came out in the media, the Delhi Police took to Twitter to say: “It is clarified that this news is “wrong” and the investigation into this sensitive case is under progress with all sensitivity.”
Meanwhile, another attempt to build up a controversy is being made, with some individual claiming to be the uncle of the “minor” girl who has accused Brij Bhushan of sexual harassment, Amit Pehlwan, has been hitting out at the protesting wrestlers, saying that they are “misleading” his family and using them to frame Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. As has been alleged by Amit, the wrestlers are carrying out a scam as his brother’s daughter’s (niece) age has been changed to 16 years, so that the grapplers can “wrongly utilise” the POCSO Act.
The issue of sexual harassment at the workplace, raised clearly and sharply by India’s Olympic Women champions needs to be faced head on. It is an issue quite commonly brushed aside as an aggressive union government is even at this moment attempting to do.