Women Wrestler’s Protests: Exposing Beti Bachao Slogan

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The protests by women wrestlers Vinesh Poghat, Sakshi Malik, Anshu Malik and also male wrestler Bajrang Punia while is aimed at demanding an action against Brijbhushan Singh Sharan who used his position to demand sexual favors goes beyond that. In general, it challenges the system where men may use their positions at workplaces to demand sexual favors and in this instance in sports. Earlier the Me-too movement had resulted in women from entertainment industry coming out and declaring how they were subjected to sexual harassment.

The sit in protests began in January 2023 at Jantar Mantar. After the appointment of a committee which submitted its report and no action taken against the accused, the protests began again on 23rd April. They were also man handled by police on the same day the new parliament was inaugurated. Seeing no action, women wrestlers decided to part away their medals and immerse them in the river ganges. Only with the intervention of farmer leaders, the decision was postponed for five days. In the twitter handle of Sakshi Malik, displeasure and lack of hope was expressed. Referring to Prime Minister, it said while he used to call them daughters, where do they stand as daughters of India. It states that the Prime Minister had called the harasser to the parliament inauguration which was stinging. In the same sacred way medals were earned, in the same manner they wanted to shed their medals in the sacred river.

While the protests took time to attract the larger attention, the protests are gradually getting attention by sports fraternity. The most prominent is the open support expressed by the 1983 cricket world cup winning team. Some of the prominent sports persons Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, ace boxer Nikhat Zareen, tennis star Sania Mirza, Shooter Abhinav Bhindra, hockey player Rani Rampal, renowned former cricketers Anil Kumble, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Navjot Singh Sidhu have come out in support of the women wrestlers. Protests have started taking place across the country demanding the arrest of Brijbhushan Sharan Singh. While it is yet to acquire the state of social movement like the one against 2012 rape incident in Delhi, it could be acquiring a shape of a movement if action is not taken against Brijbhushan.

The accused is powerful with a strong political influence and hence the unwillingness of government to act despite the criminal accusations Brijbhushan apart from being President of Wrestling federation of India is also a six-time member of parliament, including a five-time MP from BJP, the ruling government. His influence is said to exist in about half a dozen Lok Sabha constituencies. His name is associated with demolition of Babri Masjid mosque and is also booked under anti-terrorism law TADA and POSCO. About 38 criminal cases have been charged against him during 1974 to 2007.

The wrestler protests expose the ‘Beti Bachao’ slogan of the Government. Like earlier instances the government has stood behind the accused rather than the victim. Instances such as Kathua, Unnao, Hathras and now protests at Jantar Mantar by women wrestlers show the anti-beti character of the government. The ruling party has only displayed greater tolerance of party representatives who are alleged rapists and sexual harassers. Rallies in support of the rapist or accuser were carried out such as in Kathua. On 5th of June, a seer’s rally was planned in support of the WFI chief.

Whenever issues of sexual violence have come up, the social media handles associated with BJP have made allegations against the victims and defended the accused. In one of those AI backed photoshop images, the women wrestlers seated in the police van after being manhandled are shown to sitting happily. Godi media has gone about alleging how financially the women wrestlers have benefitted from the government yet accusing it.

The protests acquire importance in the assertions against the current regime. Like the earlier protests such as anti-CAA, anti-Farm laws which showed the anti-minority, anti-farmer character of the current regime, the current protests display and challenge the anti-women character. The protests of the women wrestlers are a continuation of their past struggles. While in the first stage, the women wrestlers fought the male dominant world to rise and mark their presence in the world of sports, the current protests aim to clean up spaces where men use positions of power to exploit women and in this case in wrestling sports.

The protests also expose where Hindutva as an ideology stands on questions of women. While it celebrates feminine divine characters in the name of Shakti, on the other hand when there is an assertion by women, the masculine characters are protected.

T Navin is an independent writer.

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