Farmer leader Naresh Tikait on Tuesday evening stopped wrestlers from immersing their medals in the Ganga river and sought five days’ time from them. Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and World Championships medallist Vinesh Phogat had arrived in Haridwar earlier on Tuesday to immerse their medals as a mark of protest against Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh who has been accused of sexual harassment.
The wrestlers had said after immersing their medals they will begin a hunger strike at India Gate in New Delhi. After Tikait intervened into the matter, the wrestlers decided to return from Haridwar.
“They [wrestlers] need to be practising in stadiums but have been ill-treated and forced to sit at Jantar Mantar and now at sacred Ganga Ghat,” Tikait said, reported the Hindustan Times. In fact, action should be taken against Brij Bhushan. We are with truth and as farmers’ agitation had shown, sooner or later victory will be of truth.”
The farmer leader said that a khap meeting will be held on Wednesday, reported ANI. “Entire Indian government is saving one man [Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh],” he added.
India’s top wrestlers had been detained by the police on Sunday while they were trying to march to the new Parliament building in New Delhi to demand Singh’s arrest. The wrestling body chief, who is also a Bharatiya Janata Party MP has been accused of sexually harassing seven women players, including a minor.
On Tuesday, the wrestlers posted similar statements on their social media handles, explaining why they are resorting to this measure.
“These medals are our life and soul,” their statement said. “After we put them in the River Ganga, there would be no reason us to live. So we will go to India Gate and sit on a fast unto death.”
On Sunday, the Delhi Police booked Punia, Malik, Phogat and others for rioting and obstructing public servants from discharging their duty, PTI reported.
The athletes had been protesting in Jantar Mantar for more than a month over the lack of action against Singh, who is also a BJP MP.
In an escalation of the month-long standoff, the police also cleared their protest site on Sunday.
“We considered who to return the medals to,” the wrestlers said in their statement.
“Should we give our medals to the president, who is a woman herself? She was barely two kms away from us but said nothing about our plight. Then we thought, should we return them to the prime minister, who calls us his daughters? But no, not once has he asked us how we have been doing since we started protesting. In fact, the man we are protesting against, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh was invited to the inauguration of the new Parliament.”
Several Opposition leaders criticised the police action, saying it was “extremely shameful and unfortunate”. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that Modi was “crushing the people’s voice on the streets” after the inauguration of the new Parliament.
The wrestlers statement added, “Have the female wrestlers committed a crime by asking for justice against sexual harassment? The Police and the government are treating us like criminals, while the accused person is openly rebuking us. He is openly talking about changing the POCSO act. After seeing all this we wonder why we win medals in Olympics and World Championships? Did we win so that the government could treat us in a pathetic manner, drag us and then declare us criminals?”
The athletes were released after their detention. Broadcaster NDTV quoted a senior police official who said “all protesters were detained and forcefully boarded in buses” because they had “violated law and order”. Punia had then refuted the police’s allegations that the protestors broke barricades and violated law and order.
“At a time when the authorities should focus on arresting the accused person, the police and the administration has been after female wrestlers who had to hide in the fields,” the wrestlers said. “There is no meaning left of these medals that once decorated us. We are anguished when we think of returning these medals, but how can we compromise with our self-respect?”