Several leading women wrestlers of India have been in the thick of a struggle against sexual harassment since the beginning of this year. They have been helped by some male wrestler colleagues as well. Although these wrestlers of both genders include those who have won several honors and medals at the international level, their struggle against powerful, politically very well-connected officials of wrestling organizations, accused of sexual harassment or colluding in it, is proving to be a very difficult struggle and much wider and sustained support will be needed for its success.
Women’s wrestling in several villages of Haryana and some other regions has gone much beyond medal-winning in terms of its social implications. This has become a symbol of a wider social role of girls and women and their participation in several non-traditional activities as well as society’s acceptance of this. The international success achieved by several female wrestlers from traditional societies against very heavy odds, the celebration with sensitivity of this success in popular films like ‘Dangal’ and the overall social recognition of these brave efforts of girls had begun to play an important role in the breaking of shackles of tradition and the opening of doors for wider social participation of women.
However just when things appeared to be going very well, disturbing complaints of perpetration or colluding in sexual harassment against powerful wrestling officials began to appear. As there was not one but actually several complaints and these appeared to be genuine and serious complaints, prompt action should have been taken but instead it appeared that some of the complainants may themselves be victimized. It was in such difficult circumstance that the wrestlers started their struggle in the beginning of the year and the fact that they had to again resume their protest dharna ( sit-in ) at Jantar Mantar in Delhi in April shows that they are far from satisfied with the response of the authorities. At the time of writing this, hopes have been raised by the Supreme Court issuing a notice to the police for not lodging a FIR on the basis of complaints of seven women wrestlers against sexual harassment. Paramjeet Malik , a phsiotherapist who has participated in trainings of leading wrestlers, has stated that crying junior women wrestlers had confided to him their fears of sexual harassment. When he complained, he was asked to leave the training camp, he has stated.
These complaints should be seen as part of other similar complaints by sportswomen including complaints by a woman athlete against a powerful minister in Haryana. This should be used as a test case for not just giving justice to the complainant wrestlers but in addition also ensuring that such harassment of sportswomen stops at a wider level. There is much hope from the Supreme Court in this context. Protesting wrestlers have rightly asked other sportspersons, including highly popular cricketers who have a big following, not to remain silent and to extend their support to this struggle. In fact this struggle of women wrestlers needs and deserves much wider support at various levels in society.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Navjeevan, How the Two Streams Met and Man over Machine.