Several of India's top wrestlers, including Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat have been participating in peaceful demonstrations for several weeks, protesting against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President and Kaiserganj BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
This weekend, some of the protestors were detained while participating in a peaceful march to India’s new parliament building in New Delhi to demand the arrest of the federation chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over sexual harassment allegations.
జంతర్ మంతర్ నుంచి కొత్త పార్లమెంట్ భవనం వైపు మార్చ్ చేసేందుకు ప్రయత్నించిన రెజ్లర్లను భద్రతా సిబ్బంది బలవంతంగా అదుపులోకి తీసుకున్నారు.#JantarMantar #WrestlersProtest #DelhiPolice pic.twitter.com/55AmO7UM2J
— BBC News Telugu (@bbcnewstelugu) May 28, 2023
The ongoing demonstrations began after it was reported that Singh had been accused of sexual assault by at least 10 women. He has denied all allegations.
India’s top wrestlers had been holding a sit-in at Jantar Mantar in the heart of the Indian capital for over a month. The march, which took place this past Sunday, had been planned to coincide with the inauguration of the new parliament by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The protest originally held demonstrations in January and withdrew after Singh, also a member of parliament from Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, was stripped of all administrative powers by the sports ministry. The wrestlers resumed their protest on April 23 to demand Singh’s arrest.
The peaceful demonstration was interrupted when the police began detaining protestors. According to senior Dehli Police officer Dependra Pathak, the protestors "broke the barricades and didn’t follow police directions.”
“They broke the law, and that’s why they were detained.”
Malik, who won the women’s 58kg freestyle bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, shared photos and video of the wrestlers being dragged away by police.
“This is how our champions are being treated. The world is watching us,” she tweeted.
“It took seven days for the Delhi Police to register an FIR against sexual harasser Brij Bhushan, and it didn’t even take seven hours to register an FIR against us for peacefully protesting. Is this country under dictatorship? The whole world is watching how the government is treating its players.”
Many took to Twitter to respond to Malik's tweets, showing their support to the wrestlers protest.
Last night was sleepless, haunted by the horrifying images of my fellow Indian wrestlers protesting. It's high time we establish independent safeguarding measures across sporting organizations. We must ensure that if such situations arise, they are dealt with utmost sensitivity…
— Abhinav A. Bindra OLY (@Abhinav_Bindra) May 29, 2023
Fellow wrestler Vinesh Phogat told the media: "Did we win all those meals for the country only to be witnessed to all this? I would not want any athlete to win a medal for this country. We have suffered so much here."
The rest of the protest demonstrators said that they are determined to stay at the protest camp until Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh goes on trial.
Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat took to social media yesterday to announce that they would be throwing their Olympic medals into the Ganga River (which is believed to be the most holy river in Hindu tradition): "The authority has focused on arresting the victim rather than the culprit. We, female athletes, feel that there is nothing more left for us now."
"We now think, why did we ever win these medals?"
"These medals are sacred to the entire nation, and to keep them sacred, the best place is Mother Ganga, and not the system, which makes us their mask and makes us stand with our harasser."