Scores of Accredited Social Health Activists, or ASHA, and members of women, student and farmer organisations are thronging to Jantar Mantar to demonstrate support for the wrestlers who have been protesting in central Delhi for over a month.
The wrestlers, who include national and international champions Vinesh Phogat, Sangeeta Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and Somvir Rathee, are pressing for the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and his removal as president of the Wrestlers Federation of India. Singh, a Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Uttar Pradesh, is accused of sexual misconduct with at least seven female wrestlers, including a minor. He was booked by the Delhi Police last month after an intervention by the Supreme Court.
The wrestlers, on their part, have said they would not leave Jantar Mantar until their demands are met. And they are drawing support from across society. On Tuesday, several members of the All India Mahila Sanskritik Sangathan travelled from Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to show their support to the athletes. The next day, they joined a candlelight march by the protesting wrestlers from Jantar Mantar to Kartavya Path at India Gate.
“Those who have been sitting here for a month are gold medallists,” said Jolly Sarkar, a Mahila Sanskritik Sangathan member from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. “When they won their medals and brought pride to India they were welcomed by the prime minister. But now when they are demanding justice, nobody is listening to them. If they can be pushed to take to the streets, who will listen to a laywoman when she goes to complain against injustices done to her.”
Ritu Kaushik, secretary of the Sangathan’s Delhi chapter, echoed Sarkar. “This is not just their fight,” she said. “This is a fight against the patriarchal notions of this state. We need this movement to eradicate that.”
Kaushik added that members of her association were also organising rallies and candlelight marches in support of the wrestlers in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.
Prakash Devi of the Delhi ASHA Workers Association said that they had been organising meetings and marches across the national capital to raise awareness about the protest. “The aim is to bring more people out in support of them, even if it’s for just a day,” she said.
The idea, she added, was that a show of support for the protesting athletes could force the authorities to listen. “Ye ladaai izzat ki hai,” Devi said. It is a fight for dignity. ASHA workers themselves, she explained, have been fighting for better pay and respect for years.
Adrika, a Delhi University student, was at Jantar Mantar with her friends from the All India Democratic Students Organisation. “We have all been raising our voices through various modes available to us,” she said. “But the authorities have failed to take any action, even in the case of these renowned wrestlers. This is why we felt it was important for us to be here and have a shared sense of solidarity.”
Balbir Singh, 59, from Sonipat has been sitting with the wrestlers at Jantar Mantar since April 23. He is a member of the farmers’ union All India Krishak Khet Mazdoor Sangathan, a farmers’ group. The protest, he said, was a fight to demand safety for all women in the country. “Our daughters will win when Brij Bhushan Singh is lodged in jail. Until then, we will keep fighting for the rights and honour of our daughters,” he said. “We feel that the protest will have to be strengthened in the coming days if our demands are not met.”
From the podium, members of his organisation were appealing to visitors to join the women’s mahapanchayat that the wrestlers plan to hold in front of the new Parliament building on May 28.
“Our candle march yesterday drew immense support,” a member of the Mahila Sanskritik Sangathan told the crowd at Jantar Mantar, which included young wrestlers from Haryana. “Women had come from Gurgaon and Haryana to support us. The wrestlers are now planning a women’s mahapanchayat in front of the new Parliament to jostle the state awake. We request you to join them there as well.”