India’s top wrestlers, including Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, who were living in makeshift tents at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar for nearly 35 days to protest against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh who is accused of sexual harassment, were detained on May 28 by security personnel as they tried to march to the new Parliament building during its inauguration.
The women protesters, including Ms. Phogat and Ms. Malik, were released around 7.20 p.m.
Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order Zone 1) Dependra Pathak said that men would also be released later in the night.
Earlier after detaining them along with hundreds of their supporters and putting them into buses following a major scuffle, the Delhi Police and paramilitary personnel also dismantled their tents and removed their belongings such as cots, mattresses, cooler fans, and the tarpaulin ceiling. Within minutes, the protest site, which saw hundreds of supporters joining the wrestlers every day, was cleared.
The wrestlers, who resumed their sit-in on April 23 after the first round of protests in January, have been demanding the arrest of Mr. Singh, also a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh’s Kaisarganj. Mr. Singh was also present at the new Parliament building, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Earlier the Delhi Police had increased the security after the call by khap panchayats to hold a mahila mahapanchayat in front of the new Parliament and the wrestlers’ decision to attend it.
Tension situation prevailed at Jantar Mantar around 11.30 a.m. when the wrestlers, after addressing the media personnel, and other protesters carrying the Tiranga began to march towards the new Parliament and jumped the first set of barricading.
The protesters were stopped as they tried to cross over the second barricading leading to a scuffle between them and the security personnel. Several protesters, including wrestlers Ms. Vinesh Phogat, Sangeeta Phogat and Ms. Malik could be seen being dragged by women personnel as they resisted the police action.
The protesters, after being put into multiple buses, were then detained and taken to various locations across the city.
Mediapersons also evicted
Several mediapersons were also evicted from the protest site by the police before the march began.
Gopal Tiwari, one of the protest organisers, said that he along with nearly 100 others were taken to Bawana Police Station in outer north Delhi. “Some 100 people are here while others have been taken to police stations in other parts of Delhi such as Kalkaji, Mayur Vihar and Burari. More than 500 protesters were detained from Jantar Mantar today,” said Mr. Tiwari.
Mr. Pathak, however, refuted the figure and said that “109 persons” were detained from Jantar Mantar after the protested “created riot-like situation”.
“The protesters created ruckus after their march to new Parliament was contained. We had to detain them as they violated law and order and did not heed to the security directions. The protesters also resorted to body-to-body pushing,” said Mr. Pathak.
The Special CP said that a case had been registered against the organisers and some protesters for violating public order, assaulting public servants and damaging public property.
When asked why the protest site was cleared, Mr. Pathak said, “They crossed all limits today. It was an important day today and we personally requested them to not march to the new Parliament and continue their protest at Jantar Mantar only. They did not listen and created a riot-like situation there, assaulting female personnel. We still did not use force and managed them by just hands.”
“So, we took a conscious decision to remove the structure from there,” he added.
Mr. Pathak also said that the protesters would not be allowed to come back to the site. “We cannot risk them having here so close to the Parliament and government offices. They do not listen to anybody,” he said.
“If they agree on protesting peacefully, we might consider allowing them to protest at some other location later. But permanent sit-ins will still not be allowed,” the Special CP added.
Mr. Tiwari said that clothes of several protesters “were torn and many were dragged on roads” by the police resulting in “scratches and injuries”.
When asked about the future of the protest in view of the site getting cleared, Mr. Tiwari said that it would continue.
“The protest cannot end. We haven’t been able to get in touch with each other yet but we will decide the future course of action after discussions.” he said.
He also alleged that the police action was “planned in advance”. “If it was only about what happened today, they would not have cleared the protest site. Their orders from above were clear that they had to clear everything from Jantar Mantar in the name of the new Parliament’s inauguration. They just took advantage of the situation,” he added.