Wrestlers in India have been staging a sit-in protest for the past 18 days against the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused of sexually exploiting and intimidating several female wrestlers, including a minor.
The protesters, who include some of the top names in Indian wrestling such as Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Satyawart Kaidyan and Jitender Kinha, marked Thursday as a “black day” and wore black bands on their foreheads or arms to express their anger and frustration.
They have been demanding that the Delhi Police arrest Brij Bhushan, who is also a member of parliament from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and take action against him as per the law.
The police have registered two FIRs against him, one under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Bajrang Punia, a world championship and Olympic medallist, said that they are confident of their victory as the whole nation is supporting them in their fight for justice.
He also alleged that their phone numbers are being tracked and they are being treated as if they have committed a crime. He said that anyone who is in contact with them is also being monitored.
He criticised Seema Antil, another athlete, who had said that their protest is harming the sport as it has disrupted the camps and trials.
He said that it is strange that she does not understand that Brij Bhushan is the one who is damaging the sport and not them. The protesters have vowed to continue their agitation until Brij Bhushan is arrested and removed from his position as the WFI chief.
They have also appealed to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Sports Minister Anurag Thakur to intervene in the matter and ensure justice for the victims.
He said that she was a good athlete and they respected her, but she should have been more careful with her words.
Mr Punia was speaking at the Jantar Mantar, where a large group of women from Punjab’s Bharat Kishan Union Ekta (Azad) had come to support the wrestlers who were protesting.
He also questioned the WFI about the money they had received from Tata for the last five years. He said that they had asked Ratan Tata ji to check if his money was being used properly.
He said that they were happy that the women’s camp had been shifted to Patiala, where the athletes had better facilities and were not exploited or mistreated. He also thanked the Mazdood Adhikar Sangathan, Sonipat and some young students from Bhagat Singh Youth Union, Maharashtra for their solidarity.
He said that they trusted the court and their fight was for justice. He said that it was a rare and unfortunate situation in Indian sports history.
He said that they should have been preparing for the Asian Games and Olympics instead of protesting for 19 days. He said that it was a big loss for sports and they felt encouraged by the support they received from all over the country.