Timeline: A Quick Recap of Month-Long Wrestlers’ Protest
For a month now, the sit-in protest by wrestlers have been going on at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, where top Indian wrestlers, including two Olympic medallists and a world champion, are demanding action against alleged sexual harassment by ruling BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh while he was president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). The accused has denied all charges levelled against him and has described the protests as a ‘plot’ to remove him from Parliament.
In January 2023, the protesters, including Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Bajran Punia and others, staged a sit-in at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to make the sexual harassment charges against Brij Bhushan public. The protests were called off in January 2023 when the Central government promised to appoint a commission to investigate the allegations. The committee's report was filed on April 5, 2023, but was not made public. On April 23, 2023, the wrestlers restarted their protest, accusing the government of inaction.
The wrestlers are calling for Brij Bhushan's arrest and an investigation into the charges, accusing the government of attempting to shield Singh since he is a member of India's ruling party. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who represented the protesting wrestlers in court, questioned the investigation's fairness. Opposition parties and activists have also flayed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah for remaining silent on the subject.
In January, former wrestler and BJP member Babita Phogat also greeted the protesting wrestlers and promised to contact the authorities. Deepak Punia and Ravi Dahiya, both silver medallists at the world championships and the Tokyo Olympics, also joined the protest. Delhi and Haryana wrestlers have been showing up in support. The wrestlers claim they have proof of sexual harassment and will report Singh if necessary.
They even met Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur who claimed that he would form a committee and a solution would soon be on the table. However, this did not happen.
On April 23, the wrestlers returned to the protest site at Jantar Mantar. They said that seven female wrestlers, including a minor, had filed a sexual harassment complaint against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh but the Delhi Police had not registered FIR. They demanded the police register an FIR against Singh based on the complaint and asked the Ministry to make public the findings of the Oversight Committee.
Eventually, the wrestlers moved the Supreme Court seeking registration of an FIR against Singh. A Supreme Court bench termed the accusations by the wrestlers as ‘serious’ and ordered the Delhi Police to file an FIR.
The wrestlers also demanded that the accused get a narco test done. In response, Singh said he would get one done only if the wrestlers would get it done too. To this, the reply by wrestlers was that the condition on which they would was if it was telecast live.
One month into the protests
On May 23, the protest by wrestlers at Jantar Mantar attained the one-month mark. The demonstrators will march to India Gate with candlelights.
All the protesting wrestlers are demanding is the arrest of Singh, who is also a powerful politician and is under the scanner of numerous criminal investigations.
The wrestlers have sought wider support for their cause by joining them at India Gate on May 23. “For a month, we had been idling here. Nothing has transpired despite the case's deadline has passed,” they said in a video.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Police has strengthened security measures at the protest venue and along Delhi's borders in advance. With the assistance of paramilitary troops, police increased security at Jantar Mantar as well. Senior police will conduct round-the-clock surveillance using CCTVs and body cameras, they claimed, and many layers of barricades have been put in place.
In the past month, the protest has seen many ups and downs from the side of the government and the authorities. From a scuffle between the Delhi police and wrestlers to detaining journalists, the protest has gone through stages.
In the late hours of May 3, a scuffle broke out between the wrestlers and the Delhi Police. Numerous people were detained as a result of the scuffle, and some wrestlers sustained injuries.
Somnath Bharti, an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader, and Malviya Nagar MLA arrived at Jantar Mantar carrying folding mattresses for the wrestlers after Delhi witnessed heavy rainfall the same day. However, Bharti was stopped in his tracks by Delhi Police, who pointed to a lack of authorisation.
The two parties got into a fight as a result of this, and the wrestlers joined in as well.
Some wrestlers were hurt as a result of the altercation, including Dushyant Phogat, Vinesh Phogat's cousin's brother.
Vinesh alleged that during the altercation, intoxicated police officers assaulted her. Punia made a rallying cry for farmers, pleading with them to come to Jantar Mantar and aid the wrestlers. "Delhi Police's high-handedness will not work anymore. We will call farmers to assemble here in numbers. We will not tolerate it anymore. Tractors or trolleys, whatever you get, just come here,” as per PTI.
According to Delhi Police, an altercation between Bharti and his supporters and law enforcement officials occurred when they attempted to remove the folding beds from their vehicles in an 'aggressive' manner.
In addition to Bharti, the police have also detained Deepender Hooda, a legislator with the Indian National Congress, and Swati Maliwal, the head of the Delhi Commission of Women.
Sea of Support
On May 20, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee declared its solidarity for the wrestlers. The organisation described the situation as involving the honour and dignity of females and urged the government to take the matter seriously and implement stern punishment for the accused, a BJP leader.
The wrestlers have also received support from Khap panchayat leaders from Western UP, Rajasthan, and Haryana.
The Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU-Tikait) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal have also pledged their support for the present movement and threatened to encircle New Delhi,
Various women’s, youth, student, farmers’ and workers’ organisations are also rallying in support of the protest, Student unions, such as in JNU, also extended their support within their University campus and also at the protest site.
Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra sent a moving tweet in support of the wrestlers' protest.
The world-class javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra revealed on Twitter that it breaks his heart to watch the wrestlers taking to the streets to demand justice.
Many other athletes joined the protesting wrestlers on Twitter to show their support and call on the administration to carry out an impartial investigation and administer justice. Former tennis player Sania Mirza tweeted.
It pains my heart to see our Olympic and world medallists in this position, tweeted two-time world champion Nikhat Zareen.
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.