Delhi Police booked Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia along with other protesters for rioting and obstructing public servants in discharge of duty on Sunday – months after they began protesting, demanding the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
The last few months have been a whirlwind for the sports fraternity in India, as several top female wrestlers accused the federation chief of sexual harassment, who has denied the allegations. Led by Olympic bronze medal winners Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, they first took to the streets of New Delhi in protest on January 18.
They withdrew the protest after the sports ministry stripped Singh — also a member of parliament from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — of all administrative powers. The wrestlers resumed their protest on April 23 demanding Singh’s arrest and have since been camping near the new parliament building which Modi inaugurated on Sunday.
A scuffle had broken out in early May as well, with the protesters accusing the Police of manhandling them. A teary-eyed Vinesh Phogat told PTI that they “were not criminals and did not deserve such disrespect”. Punia, Malik and Phogat have said they will not take part in any tournaments until the government takes adequate action and disbands the wrestling federation.
According to BBC, Delhi’s Special Commissioner of Police said that the wrestlers were detained because they “broke the barricades and didn’t follow police directions”. The Delhi Police, following the scuffle, cleared the site of the protest, Jantar Mantar, and said that they will not allow the protesters to return.
Videos and images of the authorities brutally dragging wrestlers surfaced on the internet, which has caused a massive uproar among citizens.
In the initial days of the protests, the wrestlers received almost no support from the rest of the Sporting fraternity, and their cries for justice fell on deaf ears. Former sprinter PT Usha had come down heavily on the wrestlers for resuming their protest instead of approaching the IOA regarding their issues. After criticism, she backtracked her statements and assured support for the protests.
After the news of the detainment went viral, many Indian sports personalities finally voiced their support for the detainees.
I’m so sad to see the visuals of our Athletes…. Please solve this ASAP 🙏
— Irfan Pathan (@IrfanPathan) May 28, 2023
Indian Football captain Sunil Chhetri tweeted, “Why does it have to come down to our wrestlers being dragged around without any consideration? This isn’t the way to treat anyone.”
Despite criticism, the government of India has still kept quiet on this issue. Opposition parties have used this chance to slam the central government for its ignorance, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi saying that Prime Minister Modi is crushing the voice of the people on the streets. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called the entire episode “shameful” and demanded action. Owing to the inaction of the central government, Malik, Phogat and Punia have reportedly decided to immerse their medals in the Ganges River.
Vinesh Phogat told PTI that the police released her, Sakshi Malik and Sangeeta Phogat, and that the rest were still under detention. Authorities have released all the detained female wrestlers and will release the male wrestlers later.