Wrestlers' Protest Becoming A People's Movement
More and more sportspersons extend support to the girls
The growing anger among the people coupled with an increase in voices supporting the agitating wrestlers and the failure of the government to act against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is showing the symptoms of snowballing into a people’s movement.
The BJP governments at the Centre and the states along with the party leadership are being pushed to the defensive on the issue of alleged sexual harassment of the women wrestlers by Brij Bhushan who reportedly stands booked under Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Things are moving at a fast pace. On Friday, a Khap Mahapanchayat at Kurukshetra that was attended by social groups as well as farmer and youth organisations, announced that the government was being given time till June 9 to take relevant action against Brij Bhushan, including his arrest under POCSO.
This event followed a similar Khap Mahapanchayat held in Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh on Thursday. Both these events were attended by farmers’ leader Rakesh Tikait who minced no words while attacking the right wing forces for trying to divide the people in the name of religion and caste.
Calling the wrestlers daughters of the country, he warned the authorities of another people’s agitation if their demands were not met. The Citizen has reported at length on how an attempt is being made to give a caste colour to the whole issue.
It needs to be pointed out here that the farmers who already miffed at the failure of the government to address the issues as promised by the government while withdrawing the three controversial farm laws have already extended their support to the wrestlers. In fact, sources on the ground in both Punjab and Haryana along with western Uttar Pradesh are geared for another face off with the government.
Then there are reports of the cricketers who were a part of the 1983 World Cup winning team expressing concern over the matter that has added t0 the embarrassment of the government,
The cricketers in a reported statement said, “We are distressed and disturbed at the unseemly visuals of our champion wrestlers being manhandled. We are also most concerned that they are thinking of dumping their hard earned medals into river Ganga.
“Those medals have involved years of effort, sacrifice, determination, and grit and are not only their own but the nation’s pride and joy. We urge them not to take any hasty decision in this matter and also fervently hope that their grievances are heard and resolved quickly. Let the law of the land prevail,”
This statement has added to the concerns raised by players from other fields including shooter Abhinav Bindra who is an Olympic gold medallist, Olympic bronze medalist boxer Vijender Singh and others.
The day after the agitating wrestlers were picked up by the police from Jantar Mantar and the protest site was cleared, Bindra tweeted, “Last night was sleepless, haunted by the horrifying images of my fellow Indian wrestlers protesting. It's high time we establish independent safeguarding measures across sporting organisations.
“We must ensure that if such situations arise, they are dealt with utmost sensitivity and respect. Every athlete deserves a safe and empowering environment.”
Vijender Singh has reportedly asked the people to come out in support of the agitating wrestlers.
There are videos doing the rounds of the BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi fleeing on being asked to react on the issue of women wrestlers that has led to a series of jokes and memes on the social media.
At the same time there are now reports coming about Brij Bhushan postponing his Ayodhya event scheduled for June 5. At this event, some seers were reportedly expected to come out in his support.
To make matters worse for the party leadership, there are voices coming from within in support of the wrestlers. There have been reports of MP Pritam Munde from Maharashtra saying that when a woman makes a complaint as serious as this, it should be considered true without a doubt.
"It could be any government or any party. I believe that if a movement of this level is going unnoticed, it isn't fair. It shouldn’t go unnoticed, necessary attention should be paid to it. Even though I am a part of this government, one has to accept that the way we should have communicated with the wrestlers has not happened," Munde is reported to have said
Brijendra Singh who is the party’s MP from Hisar in Haryana has also spoken in favour of the wrestlers. In a tweet in late April, he had stated, “It’s disheartening to see our wrestlers protesting on the streets. It should be our endeavour to protect our athletes from any kind of injustice.
“I request the govt to work towards providing an environment which motivates our athletes to focus on practice & bring medals to India.
Again when the wrestlers had announced their decision to immerse their medals in the Ganga, he stated in a tweet, “I feel the pain and helplessness of our wrestlers forcing them to the brink of throwing away their lifetime of hard work- the medals from Olympics, CWGs, Asian Games in the holy Ganga. Absolutely heartbreaking.”
Meanwhile, the hinterland of Haryana and Punjab is rife with public anger on the issue with the women being the most agitated on the stand of the government. One can come across a series of videos being posted by some women in Haryana exhorting the males in the society to put an accelerator on exertion of pressure to ensure action against the accused.
The language used in these videos is fiery, to say the least. Sources say that the sentiment is that if internationally recognised athletes can be treated in such a manner; one can imagine the plight of a common woman.
The publishing of the details of the first information report (FIR) registered against Brij Bhushan which is being circulated after being translated has added to the anger of the masses, particularly the women. At the same time a question is being raised as to why these details were not published or reported before since a FIR is a public document.
In Punjab, there is already a lot of anger on the issue of the reported targeting of economist Dr Navsharan Kaur and other women activists and intellectuals by state agencies. The treatment meted out to the women wrestlers has had a multiplier impact on the public sentiment as protests are taking place with regularity leaving no corner of the state untouched.
“The anti women face of the government stands further exposed as the present developments have also brought to the fore once again the stand of the government and the ruling party in the instances of the rape and killing of a minor in Kathua, the Hathras case where a Dalit girl was gang raped and had reportedly died later to be forcibly cremated and the release of the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case,” said Narayan Dutt of Inqualabi Kendra Punjab.
A meeting of various civil society groups from across the state has been convened in Jalandhar on June 4, by the Association for Democratic Reforms (AFDR). “The issue of targeting of women activists under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) was already on the agenda of the meet and the emerging scenario with regards to the demands of the agitating wrestlers has got added to it.
“We will be drawing a strategy on how to take these two further among the people. The people have to be told how the PMLA is potentially more dangerous even than the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) when it comes to targeting an individual.
“At the same time they have to be conveyed how a person accused under POCSO is being let off despite the law’s stringent provisions. We are faced with a situation where those who have enhanced national honour by winning medals on global platforms stand victimised,” said senior AFDR functionary Professor Jagmohan Singh.
Meanwhile, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) which is the umbrella organisation of farmer groups across the country is going ahead with its agitation programmes announced a few days ago. The SKM organised tractor rallies and public protests at several places across the country on Thursday including Kurnool, Sitamarhi, Daudnagar, Kochi, Allahabad, Varanasi, Kurukshetra, Sambhal, Hapur, Sitapur, Aligarh, Vijayawada, Patna, Etawah, Multai, Bengaluru, Azamgarh, Kanpur, Amethi, Muzaffarpur, Rae Bareli, Jhajjar, Jhunjunu, Moradabad, Rewari, Bhiwani, Pilani and Delhi.
The SKM has also sent a memorandum to President Droupadi Murmu through district magistrates and sub divisional magistrates requesting her to direct the authorities to allow the agitating wrestlers to continue their protest at Jantar Mantar and arrest Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh besides initiating other legal proceedings against him.
“These women wrestlers have been protesting at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar since April 23, 2023, after the union government failed to fulfil its promise to the sportspersons given in January 2023 to investigate and take necessary steps against the accused MP.
“The sports persons had to even approach the Supreme Court of India and only after the Court began hearing the matter, the Delhi Police, much belatedly registered two FIRs against the accused Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Unfortunately, thereafter the Delhi Police has been dragging its feet and has not proceeded with investigation and prosecution.
“When the sportspersons continued their protest and peacefully marched at Delhi on May 28, 2023, the Delhi Police, under the control of the union government, brutally suppressed their protest march, detained them, lodged FIRs against them and then forcefully removed them from their peaceful protest site at Jantar Mantar. This was totally wrong and undemocratic,” the memorandum reads.
It further says, “We at the Samyukt Kisan Morcha are extremely disturbed by this chain of events. As a daughter of a farmer yourself, you know that wrestling is a rural sport and most of
the victims of the predation and villainy of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh are from rural and farmers families.
“Hence we are concerned that the daughters of farmers who have worked very hard to achieve international fame and have brought great glory to India are being treated with utmost cruelty by the union government, at the behest of people who are politically very powerful.
“As head of government, we request you to kindly direct that the union government should immediately grant the women wrestlers permission to continue their sit-in protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, action be taken against the responsible police officers who treated the women wrestlers so brutally and Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh be arrested and his custodial interrogation be done for speedy filing of charge-sheet and prosecution.”
The SKM said that it was submitting this memorandum to the President’s office to act expeditiously to protect the honour of the daughters of India and put an end to this “sordid saga that has brought great shame to the nation and her people”.