CDRO stands in solidarity with the protesting wrestlers

wrestlers protest 2

Leading athletes of the country, like World Championships medal winner Vinesh Phogat, and Olympic medalists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik and others, are protesting against the sexual harassment of women wrestlers at the hands of their coaches and in particular, they have levelled charges against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) & its chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Their protest started in January 2023 when they sat in silent dharna at Jantar Mantar. Support had come pouring in from people involved with the game. For example, a wrestling coach at Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium, Praveen Dahiya, responded to the allegations and said that sexual harassment allegations made by Vinesh (Phogat) are serious as no one says such things without reason. “Wrestlers want the truth to come out after a fair probe.” One would have assumed this was fairly straightforward and that the grievance would be promptly addressed. But then came twists in the story.

After allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) formed a panel in January to investigate them. Indian Sports Minister Anurag Singh Thakur said the probe would be completed in four weeks. The inquiry report was ready in April; however, the findings were not made public. It is no wonder to those who know that Singh is not just the President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) since 2011, he is also a BJP MP. Thus, the Delhi Police, which acts under the Central Government, had also gone slow with their investigation.

This lapse prompted the sportsters to resume their protest in April. Surprisingly, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) President PT Usha equated the protest by the wrestlers as “indiscipline“! But her statement contrasts starkly with the reality expressed by the wrestlers. “We have just one issue. The reason for the protest is that nothing has been done so far…We are here to save wrestling,” said wrestler Bajrang Punia. Fellow wrestler Sakshi Malik broke down while interacting with the media, insisting that ‘no one was listening’. She asserted that the protesters were being ‘framed as liars’ and had been waiting for nearly three months.

The entire protest and the government’s response expose the patriarchal mindset of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. On the one hand, the Prime Minister would say Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, and he will invite the sports personnel after their winning performances. On the other side, he has maintained a studied silence when responding to the protest in his backyard. CDRO would like to join the protesting wrestlers and ask the PM to listen to the Mann Ki Baat of the wrestlers instead of shielding his fellow party man. Of course, such a double standard is not new to him or the BJP, as seen in the case of the Unnao rape victim when the party had maintained similar eerie silence.

Against this backdrop, seeing the common people come out in open support is heartening. People from different walks of life, ranging from the students from JNU and Delhi University, the common women of Delhi, to the people from distant places of Punjab and Haryana, have joined in the protest and expressed solidarity with their demands. Their sentiments have found expression in a nice articulation by Anu, a hospitality entrepreneur from North Delhi: “This is an issue that is very close to my heart.” Her words are measured and restrained, but there is no mistaking the anger. “I hate the idea of men taking women for granted and thinking they can get away with anything. It is time we all got together and put an end to this. I’ve just met Sakshi [Malik] and Vinesh [Phogat] and they are strong, beautiful people. If they have had to face this, what hope do the rest have?

A massive Mahapanchayat of farmer leaders at Jantar Mantar on May 7 saw thousands of farmers (including a substantial number of women) come from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and even Jharkhand and West Bengal to show solidarity with Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and their fellow wrestlers who have been protesting at Jantar Mantar since April 23. The sentiments of elderly farmers coming from various parts of Punjab and Haryana in joining the protest against sexual harassment is aptly summarised by Dr Darshan Pal, president of the Krantikari Kisan Union and a senior leader in the Samyukt Kisan Morcha. He told: “They reached out to us and we were happy to help them. Jawan, kisan, pehelwaan [soldiers, farmers, wrestlers], these are almost synonymous terms because our soldiers, farmers and wrestlers all come from rural India. People in the villages are particularly sensitive to matters like these. A daughter is not just a family’s daughter, she is the village’s daughter as well. Hence the anger and the determination to bring culprits like Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh to justice.”

CDRO, too, expresses anger about the total indifference shown by the central government and its police for shielding the BJP MP. CDRO demands that not only Singh but also other coaches involved in this sexual harassment be meted with proper justice.

CDRO calls upon all democratic-minded people to support the wrestlers’ protest and expose the patriarchal tendencies of the BJP.

(Asish Gupta)                                  (Tapas Chakraborty)                    (Kranthi Chaitanya)

Coordinators, CDRO

Constituent Organisations of CDRO:

Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR, Punjab); Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR, Haryana), Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR, West Bengal); Asansol Civil Rights Association(West Bengal); Bandi Mukti Committee(West Bengal); Civil Liberties Committee (Andhra Pradesh); Civil Liberties Committee (Telangana); Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (Maharashtra); Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR TamilNadu); Coordination for Human Rights (Manipur); Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (Assam); Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights; Peoples’Committee for Human Rights (Jammu and Kashmir); Peoples Democratic Forum(Karnataka); Jharkhand Council for Democratic Rights (Jharkhand); Peoples Union For Democratic Rights (Delhi); Peoples Union for Civil Rights (Haryana), Campaign for Peace & Democracy in Manipur, Delhi; Janakeeya Manushyaavakasha Prasthanam, Kerala

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