Farmer leader Naresh Tikait collects medals from protesting wrestlers as they arrive in Haridwar to immerse their medals in the Ganga on May 30, 2023. | Photo Credit: ANI
Gathering on the banks of the Ganga in Haridwar to immerse their medals in protest just two days after their eviction from Jantar Mantar, India’s top wrestlers were stopped from their violent action by the intervention of a peasant leader who was Naresh Tikait on Tuesday evening. Stripped of medals, he bought five days of time from grapplers seeking to arrest Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on charges of sexual exploitation, which he denies. .
Earlier in the day, the protesting wrestlers issued a statement about their plans to dip their medals, adding that they would begin a warn anshan (indefinite hunger strike) at Delhi’s India Gate. However, the Delhi Police said the wrestlers will not be allowed to stage any protest in the high-security area.
Emotional scenes were witnessed at Haridwar’s Har Ki Pauri as the wrestlers — including Sakshee Malikkh, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia — sat at the Ganga Ghat with their supporters for over an hour while their medals in their hands and tears in their eyes.
Wrestlers protest at Har ki Pauri in Haridwar district on May 30, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI
Their attempt stalled after Mr. Tikait, president of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), arrived in Haridwar along with BKU volunteers. After demanding five days from them, the farmer leader told reporters that he could not let the players hand over their medals. “What are these children going through while thinking of throwing away their medals to protect their honor? I am taking their medals but we will continue our fight,” he said.
Five day ultimatum
Later, the wrestlers gave the government a five-day ultimatum to act on the matter. They demand the arrest of Mr. Singh. The Delhi Police filed two FIRs against the WFI chief, including one under the POCSO Act, based on complaints of sexual harassment from various female wrestlers.
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A senior Delhi Police official said that the police have yet to receive any request from the wrestlers regarding a sit-in at India Gate. “Even if they send a request, we cannot allow them to stage a sit-in at India Gate or anywhere else in the New Delhi area, which houses some important institutions like Parliament, Rashtrapati Bhawan, PMO and some government offices. We will place adequate security arrangements if they decide to march here,” said the official.
Meanwhile, the wrestlers continued to receive support from various Opposition parties and political leaders. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee spoke to the wrestlers, who vowed to hold a rally in Kolkata in support of the sportspersons protesting in the national capital.
Trinamool Congress spokesperson Saket Gokhale filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission accusing the Delhi Police of “brutal handling and assault on unarmed and peaceful protesting wrestlers”. In a tweet, Mr. Gokhale said he filed the complaint on behalf of his party.
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The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) tweeted: “Medals, won for India in sweat and blood for years, will be immersed in the Ganga by wrestlers. The Modi government should be ashamed, that saving people like MP Brij Bhushan.
Delhi Cabinet Minister and AAP leader Saurabh Bharadwaj slammed Lieutenant General Vinai Kumar Saxena for Sunday’s police action against wrestlers at Jantar Mantar. He mentioned that BJP leaders are the first to click pictures of sportspersons when they win medals. “Where are the BJP leaders today when women wrestlers are protesting for their honour?” he asked. “In whatever international forum this issue will be discussed, India’s head will hang in shame for the way the government has treated women wrestlers,” he added.