In a powerful demonstration against alleged sexual harassment within the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), India’s top wrestlers had planned to throw their medals into the holy river Ganges. However, they have now decided to postpone this act as they demand the arrest of the head of the WFI, Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused of sexual harassment. This article explores the events leading up to the wrestlers’ protest, their demands, and the response they have received.
Threatening to Surrender Medals
The wrestlers, including Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and Asian Games champion Vinesh Phogat, had gathered in Haridwar with the intention of immersing their medals in the river Ganges as a mark of protest. They consider their medals sacred, but they believe that the river Ganges would be a more suitable custodian of their achievements than a system that allegedly protects offenders.
Farmers’ Leader’s Intervention
The wrestlers were convinced to postpone their plan by Naresh Tikait, a prominent farmers’ leader. Tikait assured them that a solution would be reached within five days. Recognizing the athletes’ contribution to India’s international sports reputation, he pledged to ensure that they would not have to hang their heads in shame.
Hunger Strike and Disappointment
In addition to postponing the medal immersion, the wrestlers announced their intention to begin an indefinite hunger strike at India Gate, a war memorial in New Delhi. Expressing their disappointment, they highlighted the lack of response from President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had not addressed their protests or made any inquiries.
Police Detention and Opposition
During their protest, several wrestlers, including Malik, Punia, and Phogat, were briefly detained by the Delhi Police when they attempted to march towards India’s new parliament building. Images of the athletes being forcefully removed and loaded onto buses went viral, sparking criticism from top athletes and opposition politicians.
Wrestlers’ Accusation of Police Treatment
In their statement, the wrestlers decried the police action and accused the authorities of treating them like criminals. They questioned whether female athletes asking for justice regarding sexual harassment had committed any crime. Delhi Police filed cases, including rioting charges, against the wrestlers, and their protest site at Jantar Mantar in Delhi was cleared.
Chief’s Denial and Political Motivations
Brij Bhushan Singh, the chief of the wrestling federation, has denied all allegations of sexual harassment and dismissed the protests as politically motivated. Singh, an influential politician and a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been questioned by the Delhi Police but not yet arrested.
India’s sports minister, Anurag Thakur, stated that the wrestlers had not been prevented from protesting in their designated spots in Delhi. He assured that appropriate action would be taken once the Delhi Police completed their investigation. Thakur also urged wrestlers who hadn’t provided statements to the police to do so.
International Wrestling Body’s Concern
The United World Wrestling (UWW) condemned the detention of the wrestlers and expressed dissatisfaction with the progress of investigations against Singh. The UWW reminded the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) of their promise to hold fresh elections for the WFI within 45 days. Failure to comply could lead to the suspension of the federation, forcing Indian athletes to compete under a neutral flag.
India’s top wrestlers, demanding the arrest of the WFI chief over sexual harassment allegations, have postponed their plan to immerse their medals in the river Ganges. Their protest highlights the need for action against sexual harassment in sports and calls for accountability within the wrestling federation. The wrestlers’ determination to fight for justice and their willingness to sacrifice their own achievements demonstrate their commitment to upholding the dignity and integrity of their sport.