Wrestlers regroup after Sunday’s action, to decide future strategy soon

Wrestlers hold day-long discussions; in touch with farmer leaders; slam police FIR

May 29, 2023 06:08 pm | Updated May 31, 2023 08:03 am IST - New Delhi

Wrestler Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sangeeta Phogat with others during their protest march from Jantar Mantar to the new Parliament building in New Delhi on May 28, 2023.

Wrestler Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sangeeta Phogat with others during their protest march from Jantar Mantar to the new Parliament building in New Delhi on May 28, 2023. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

A day after the police action in which their protest site was cleared and they were detained, the protesting wrestlers held discussions among themselves on Monday to decide their strategy to keep the stir against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, accused of sexual harassment.

Speaking to The Hindu, Sakshi Malik said that the wrestlers and organisers regrouped and held meetings throughout the day to work on the strategy. “The entire country saw what happened yesterday. It was an example of dictatorship. But that will not stop us from our struggle. We are discussing multiple ways to continue the stir and will reach a decision by tomorrow [Tuesday],” she said.

Wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Sangeeta Phogat with others being detained by the security personnel on May 28, 2023.

Wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Sangeeta Phogat with others being detained by the security personnel on May 28, 2023. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

On Sunday, top wrestlers such as Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia were among over a hundred protesters who were detained by the Delhi Police from Jantar Mantar after they decided to march to the new Parliament building, during its inauguration ceremony, to hold a ‘mahila mahapanchayat’.

Shortly after the detention, the police dismantled their tents, removing their belongings such as cots, mattresses, cooler fans, and the tarpaulin ceiling, and cleared the site where the protest was going on since April 23. The women protesters were released in the evening and men much later in the night from various police stations that they were held in.

The Monday’s discussions were also attended by Ms. Phogat, Mr. Punia, wrestler Satyawart Kadian among others.

Police personnel detain wrestler Sangeeta Phogat during the protest march from Jantar Mantar to New Parliament building against the alleged sexual harassment of women wrestlers by WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, in New Delhi on Sunday. (ANI Photo/Amit Sharma)

Police personnel detain wrestler Sangeeta Phogat during the protest march from Jantar Mantar to New Parliament building against the alleged sexual harassment of women wrestlers by WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, in New Delhi on Sunday. (ANI Photo/Amit Sharma) | Photo Credit: ANI

"Last night was sleepless, haunted by the horrifying images of my fellow Indian wrestlers protesting," tweeted Bindra, even as India's most successful footballer Sunil Chhetri and former India all-rounder too criticised the action against the wrestlers. "It's high time we establish independent safeguarding measures across sporting organisations. We must ensure that if such situations arise, they are dealt with utmost sensitivity and respect. Every athlete deserves a safe and empowering environment," added Bindra, the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medallist in air rifle.Mr. Kadian said that their respective careers were already at risk now. “Career to ab khatre me path chula hai. So, we won’t back down now. We can’t go to Jantar Mantar right now as there is heavy force deployment there, but we will decide how to continue the protest,”  he said, adding that they were also in touch with farmer and khap leaders.

The police had said on Monday that they would not allow the wrestlers to return to the Jantar Mantar for the stir and accused them of creating a “riot-like situation”. “They crossed all limits today [Sunday]. We cannot risk them having here so close to the Parliament and government offices. They do not listen to anybody,” Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order Zone 1) Dependra Pathak had said.

The police also registered an FIR against Ms. Phogat, Ms. Malik, Mr. Punia and others for allegedly assaulting public servants, rioting, damaging public property among other charges. 

Ms. Malik, taking to Twitter, slammed the move and said it took Delhi Police seven days to file an FIR against the WFI chief but not even seven hours against the protesters. 

“It takes 7 days for Delhi Police to register an FIR against Brij Bhushan who sexually assaulted girls and it didn’t even take 7 hours to register an FIR against us for peacefully protesting. Has dictatorship started in this country? The whole world is watching how the government is treating its players,” she tweeted.

Mr. Kadian denied the police allegations and said that the protesters were peaceful and did not damage any public property or hurt any personnel. “At least 20 police were dragging one protester. We have gotten scratches and injuries. I don’t know what all Sections they have added in the FIR,” he said.

Gopal Tiwari, one of the protest organisers and supporters, said earlier in the day that the wrestlers were left distraught after Sunday’s action. “But their will has not deterred,” he said, adding that all the supporters too continued to stand with them.

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