Delhi cops file rioting case against top Indian wrestlers after protest: ‘The world is watching us!’
Two-time World Championship medallist Vinesh Phogat later tweeted saying the entire world saw how the government was treating its own players.
India’s Olympic medal-winning wrestler Sakshi Malik is detained by the police while attempting to march to India’s new parliament, just as it was being inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a protest against Brij Bhushan Singh, the wrestling federation chief, over allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation, in New Delhi on May 28, 2023. (Photo by ARUN THAKUR/AFP via Getty Images)
The Delhi Police have filed cases against some of India’s top wrestlers following their detention during a protest on Sunday (28), including rioting.
Among the protesters detained while they tried to march towards India’s new parliament which was inaugurated by prime minister Narendra Modi the same day were Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, both of whom have won medals at the Olympic Games for their country.
India wrestlers risk Olympic medals by protesting on streets against federation chief
The sportspersons have been protesting since last month against the chief of India’s wrestling federation Brij Bhusan Sharan Singh over allegedly sexually harassing female athletes, including a minor, a charge which the latter has denied. They have been seeking the arrest of Singh, who is also a member of the parliament representing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Modi.
The protesting wrestlers were released later in the night but they were not yet ready to give up. Even as the police cleared their protest site in the national capital, the wrestlers were hell-bent to continue with their agitation till they got justice.
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“There is no point in going home until we get justice,” the 29-year-old Punia, who won a bronze in the Tokyo Games in 2021, told reporters on Sunday night following his release from detention, the BBC reported.
Two-time World Championship medallist Vinesh Phogat and her sister Sangeeta were also among the detained wrestlers. They were released along with Malik, who won a bronze at the Rio Games in 2016, in the evening.
On Monday (29), the Delhi Police said the protesting wrestlers will be allowed to demonstrate at a suitable place in the city other than Jantar Mantar, a heritage site in the city.
“The demonstration by the wrestlers was going on smoothly at the notified place of Jantar Mantar. On Sunday, the protestors flouted the law, ignoring our repeated requests. Hence, we cleared the site and ended the dharna,” the deputy commissioner of police (New Delhi) tweeted in Hindi.
“If the wrestlers will apply for permission to stage their sit-in again in the future, they will be allowed to do so at any suitable notified place other than Jantar Mantar,” it said.
The wrestlers said they wanted to hold a peaceful march towards the new parliament but were stopped. Malik, the only woman Indian wrestler to clinch an Olympic medal, said neither did they riot nor damage any public property.
A scuffle broke out between the protesters and police while Modi was formally inaugurating the new parliament building, located just a few kilometres away from Jantar Mantar. The police alleged that the protesters did not follow their directions and they detained those who tried to break the security barricades put up.
Footage showed protesters climbing over barricades and being moved away by the personnel.
Vinesh Phogat later tweeted in Hindi saying the entire world saw how the government was treating its own players.
Malik also tweeted about the scuffle saying “the world is watching us!”.
The police later filed cases against Malik, Punia, the Phogat sisters and “other organisers of the protest”. They were accused of rioting, assembling unlawfully and hindering public servants from carrying out their work.
Some top athletes and opposition politicians criticised the treatment of the athletes after visuals of them being dragged away in buses became viral.
“This makes me sad. There has to be a better way to deal with this”, Neeraj Chopra, who won a gold in javelin throw at the Tokyo Games two years ago, tweeted in reaction to a video that showed police officers pulling the Phogat sisters as they sat on the road.
“Why does it have to come down to our wrestlers being dragged around without any consideration? This isn’t the way to treat anyone. I really hope this whole situation is assessed the way it should be,” Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri said in a tweet.
Opposition leaders such as Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress and Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi and convenor of the Aam Aadmi Party, slammed the police over their actions.
The wrestlers started protests in January but called it off the same month after the country’s sports ministry stripped the wrestling federation chief of his administrative powers for a few weeks and the authorities promised to probe their complaints.
But the wrestlers resumed their protests in April, seeking Singh’s arrest.
(With PTI inputs)