What started as a genuine grievance to draw the attention of the government is now taking the wrong turn, casting doubt on their cause. Why are these renowned wrestlers protesting? They have accused Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India, of sexual harassment. However, the chief has denied the allegations. The wrestlers are demanding that Bhushan step down from his position and that the law enforcement agencies investigate the accusations.
On 23 April, wrestlers Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Mallik, and their supporters staged a sit-in at Jantar Mantar, which was later called off. The Supreme Court intervened, leading the Delhi police to lodge an FIR against the chief and initiate an investigation. Last week marked the first month of the protest.
Following the initial protest, the Sports Ministry formed a 5-member panel on 23 January 2023, with legendary boxer MC Mary Kom as the head. The panel was given one month to submit its findings. The deadline to submit the report was extended by two weeks, and later, a sixth member, Babita Phogat, was added to the panel. In the first week of April, the panel submitted its report.
Allegations and Contradictions
However, there is more to the situation than meets the eye. Let’s start with some. First of all, some wrestlers were seen backtracking from their allegations. One female physio accused the WFI Chief of treating her badly in Bulgaria, but during the hearing, she denied it. Vinesh Phogat filed an affidavit before the IOA probing panel in which she claimed that in 2015, in Turkey, the WFI Chief touched her inappropriately. However, the findings revealed that Vinesh did not compete in Turkey. Later, she said it was in 2016 in Mongolia. Sakshi Malik, another wrestler, claimed that the WFI Chief hugged her in 2015. However, she invited the WFI Chief to her wedding in 2017. This raises the question: Would anyone invite their abuser to their wedding? Highly unlikely.
Later, the wrestlers approached the Supreme Court to file FIRs, and on 28 April 2023, the Delhi Police registered two FIRs against the WFI Chief. During the hearing of the petition filed by the wrestlers on 4 May 2023, the Supreme Court ordered that the petition be disposed off. Furthermore, the Supreme Court asked the wrestlers to approach the High Court and other authorities for further investigation and remedies. The WFI Chief engaged Senior Advocate Harish Salve to represent him. These events highlight the involvement of legal proceedings in this scenario. Initially, the wrestlers demanded FIRs, which were registered, and now they are demanding the chief’s arrest without waiting for the completion of the investigation.
Political Dimensions and Support
Now, the major question arises: Isn’t the wrestlers’ protest turning political? The answer is yes. Following the protest, opposition parties have shown relentless support for the wrestlers. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee spoke to the wrestlers, vowing to hold a rally in Kolkata in support of the sportspersons. Delhi Cabinet Minister and AAP leader Saurabh Bharadwaj criticised Lieutenant General Vinai Kumar Saxena, and Mr. Tikait, the president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), also joined in. Two days after the wrestlers were evicted from Jantar Mantar, they went to Haridwar to immerse their medals in the Ganga as an act of protest. Their attempt was halted after Mr. Tikait, who stated to the media, “What will these daughters be going through while thinking of throwing their medals to protect their honour?” I am taking their medals, but we will continue our fight.”
On 28 May 2023, as security was heightened around the new Parliament Building, the wrestlers intentionally marched towards it. This feels like déjà vu, with a willingness to create unrest on a historic day. Inviting the farmer association to come with tractors to support them doesn’t seem peaceful.
Days after the wrestlers resumed their protest, wrestler Bajrang Punia’s wife, Sangeet Phogat, shared a tagged Instagram story with a derogatory comment about PM Modi. The wrestlers also stated, “We won’t play national-level games, only in the Olympics.” This statement was also confirmed by the WFI Chief. The protest site was filled with derogatory slogans about the Prime Minister of India, saying, “Modi Teri Kabar Khudegi” (Modi, your grave will be dug).
These events seem somewhat coincidental when the national election is just around the corner. When the sensible voice, IOA Chief and athlete PT Usha, went to visit the wrestlers, she was heckled by the protesting group. She said the wrestlers were tarnishing the image of the country, and they should have approached the appropriate body instead of taking their grievances to the streets. Furthermore, if the WFI Chief is ready for a narco test, what’s the purpose of creating a scene? With the opposition’s backing, the involvement of the farmers’ association, and protests over mere allegations, aren’t these ingredients similar to the recipe of the Farmer’s Protest? These situations seem staged and against the ruling government. The wrestlers have issued a statement regarding their plans to begin an amaran anshan (indefinite hunger strike) at Delhi’s India Gate. Time will tell how it unfolds.