Gathered on the banks of the Ganga at Haridwar to immerse their medals as an act of protest just two days after their eviction from Jantar Mantar, India’s top wrestlers were stopped from their drastic act by the intervention of farmer leader Naresh Tikait on Tuesday evening. Taking the medals away, he bought five days of time from the grapplers who are seeking the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on charges of sexual exploitation, which he has denied.
Earlier in the day, the protesting wrestlers issued a statement regarding their plans to immerse their medals, adding that they would then begin an amaran anshan (indefinite hunger strike) at Delhi’s India Gate. However, the Delhi Police said that the wrestlers would not be permitted to hold any protest in the high-security area.
Emotional scenes were witnessed at Haridwar’s Har Ki Pauri as the wrestlers — including Sakshee Malikkh, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia — sat at Ganga Ghat with their supporters for over an hour with their medals in their hands and tears in their eyes.
Their attempt was stopped after Mr. Tikait, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), arrived at Haridwar along with BKU volunteers. After seeking five days from them, the farmer leader told journalists that he could not let the players give up their medals. “What will these daughters be going through while thinking of throwing their medals to protect their honour? I am taking their medals but we will continue our fight,” he said.
The wrestlers later gave the government a five-day ultimatum to take action on the matter. They have been demanding Mr. Singh’s arrest. The Delhi Police has filed two FIRs against the WFI chief, including one under the POCSO Act, based on sexual harassment complaints from various women wrestlers.
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A senior Delhi Police officer said that the police have not received any request from the wrestlers yet regarding a sit-in at India Gate. “Even if they send a request, we cannot allow them to stage a sit-in at India Gate or anywhere in the New Delhi area, which houses several important institutions such as the Parliament, Rashtrapati Bhawan, the PMO and several government offices. We will place adequate security arrangements if they decide to march here,” the officer said.
Meanwhile, the wrestlers continued to receive support from various Opposition parties and political leaders. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee spoke to the wrestlers, vowing to carry out a rally in Kolkata in support of the sportspersons protesting in the national capital.
Trinamool Congress spokesperson Saket Gokhale filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission accusing the Delhi Police of “brutally manhandling and assaulting the unarmed and peacefully protesting wrestlers”. In a tweet, Mr. Gokhale said that he had filed the complaint on behalf of his party.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) tweeted: “Medals, earned for India with sweat and blood for many years, are going to be immersed in the Ganga by the wrestlers. Modi government should be ashamed, who are saving people like MP Brij Bhushan.”
Delhi Cabinet Minister and AAP leader Saurabh Bharadwaj slammed Lieutenant General Vinai Kumar Saxena for Sunday’s police action against the wrestlers at Jantar Mantar. He noted that the BJP’s leaders were the first to click pictures with sportspersons when they win medals. “Where are those BJP leaders today when the women wrestlers are protesting for their honour?” he asked. “Whichever international forum this issue will be discussed at, India’s head will go down in shame for the way the government has treated the women wrestlers,” he added.