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India’s protesting wrestlers hold plan to throw medals in Ganges, give 5-day ultimatum for action against federation chief

Visuals from Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar showed local people consoling the athletes who broke down over giving up their medals, asking them to hold on to their prizes that they earned through years of hard work and dedication.

Wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik along with others reach Haridwar in the northern state of Uttarakhand to immerse their medals in the Ganges river as a mark of protest against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over the sexual harassment allegations, on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (ANI Photo)

By: Shubham Ghosh

India’s protesting wrestlers on Tuesday (30) shelved their plans to immerse their medals won in some of the world’s top tournaments, including the Olympic Games, in river Ganges in Haridwar in the northern state of Uttarakhand following an intervention from farmer leader Naresh Tikait, NDTV reported. The sportspersons have also given a five-day deadline for action against the chief of India’s wrestling federation, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, over alleged sexual harassment of female wrestlers, including a minor.

The ace wrestlers, including Olympic medal winners Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, who were detained during a protest march towards India’s new parliament building on Sunday (28) when prime minister Narendra Modi was inaugurating it, said in a statement that would immerse their medals in the holy river and sit on a hunger strike till death at India Gate in New Delhi over their protest against Singh, who is also a parliamentarian from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Visuals from Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar showed local people consoling the athletes who broke down over giving up their medals, asking them to hold to on their prizes that they earned through years of hard work and dedication. The wrestlers were later seen leaving the site after a meeting with Tikait.

The farmer leader was seen taking the medals from the wrestlers and saying a collective decision would be taken after five days, indicating that khap panchayats — influential socio-political organisations in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Haryana — could also get involved in the matter, Outlook reported.

If the athletes still stick to their resolve after the deadline, India may lose two Olympic and a handful of Commonwealth Games and World Championship medals.

“It seems that these medals decorated around our necks have no meaning any more,” read a statement in Hindi, tweeted out by the top athletes, including Malik, Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat who has a couple of World Championship medals.

“The police and the system are treating us as criminals while the harasser openly attacks us in public meetings,” the wrestlers added, referring to Sunday’s crackdown.

“These medals are our lives, our souls. There would be no reason to live after immersing them in the Ganga today. So, we will start a hunger strike until death at India Gate after that,” added the statement.

The Delhi Police, who cleared the Jantar Mantar protest site to the wrestlers after Sunday’ scuffle said they will not be allowed to hold a protest at the India Gate either. The capital’s police had also accused the protesting athletes of rioting on Sunday, alleging they broke the law in a frenzy.

A number of top sportspersons and opposition leaders have backed the wrestlers. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a tweet that the whole country was shocked and asked Modi to “leave his arrogance”.

Kejriwal’s Punjab counterpart Bhagwant Mann, who also hails from the Aam Aadmi Party, called the situation “shameful”.

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