Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik on Tuesday took on the Indian Olympic Association top brass directly, slamming them for their comments and actions on not just the ongoing wrestlers’ protest but also the entire issue of sexual harassment in Indian sports.
“All of us come from ordinary backgrounds where even getting to watch sports on television was a big deal. When I started understanding sports for the first time and heard about P.T. Usha and her achievements, I always wondered if I could ever meet her. People like Usha, Sania Mirza, Sachin sir — they were the heroes we only saw on TV or heard about and always wondered if we would ever be able to meet them in person.
“We had heard of how politics changes people and destroys relations, now we are seeing that happen. If as a woman and the IOA president you cannot understand the problems of a female athlete, what will you do with such power and position?” Sakshi questioned, talking to select media, as their protest entered the 10th day.
“We were uncertain earlier but as the fight continues, the kind of things Usha said — and Mary Kom (Athletes Commission chairperson) hasn’t even bothered to comment — if such big stars of Indian sports cannot stand with us on such a serious issue, we feel we are 1000 times better and that’s what gives us strength,” she declared.
Asked about Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s allegations of the protest being political, Bajrang retorted that it would have been one if there were any demands or allegations that might benefit someone.
“We are not even talking about his corruption or administration, we are only talking of sexual harassment — how can that be political? This is not a difficult fight but the kind of things he and his people are doing to divert attention is wrong,” he said.
He also dared Singh to make any evidence he had against him public. “I want to tell him through the media to make it all public, we are not afraid. Yes I spoke of getting girls to talk — it is our responsibility to give courage and support those who want to speak up but are scared. There are seven complainants and he is trying to break them, sending money and threats to their families even though their identities are supposed to be secret, the Delhi Police is not doing anything.”
Sakshi added that so far neither had any girl been called for registering her statement nor any summons issued to Singh which puts a question mark on their fairness. “If we win this fight it will change the entire sporting ecosystem in India, will spare the next generation of all this and will be our payback to a sport that has given us everything,” she declared.
Asked if the wrestlers would consider ending their protest if the Supreme Court in its hearing on Friday assures them of monitoring the investigation, Bajrang was non-committal. “We will talk to our elders and our legal team and then decide because it is a court matter and they will know the best way forward,” he said.
Both Sakshi and Bajrang also acknowledged that their wrestling career was all but over now. “He (Singh) has already retired us and we also know that if he or his people continue to run the federation then there is nothing left for us. But I have played enough and at every major competition. But the youngsters coming up, they have their entire lives and careers ahead.
“That is also the reason we are asking everyone, even those who are supporting us, to come here. This is an important year in terms of competitions and we do not want their training or their future to be affected. We were prepared for the worst before we started out; what we did not expect was the kind of support he is getting,” Bajrang said.
Asked if this was the toughest fight of their careers, Sakshi laughed. “Not at all! Wrestling has a lot more struggle — before every competition, we go through a lot physically, mentally, and emotionally. That is a different level of struggle and feeling, that feeling has not even started here till now. We are fighting for a good cause, what’s the struggle in that,” she declared.