‘Neither compromised nor defeated’: Wrestlers warn restarting stir if no arrest made

By, Sunil Rahar, New Delhi/rohtak
Jun 11, 2023 12:21 AM IST

The wrestlers have agreed to temporarily call off their protest until June 15, by which time the police will file a charge sheet.

The protesting wrestlers on Saturday announced they will relaunch their agitation if Delhi Police files a weak charge sheet against former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over allegations of sexual harassment.

Wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik in Sonepat on Saturday. (PTI)
Wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik in Sonepat on Saturday. (PTI)

Also read: Cops take female wrestler to WFI chief's house, TMC seeks probe: ‘Unfathomable and shocking’

Addressing a mahapanchayat in Sonepat that was attended by around 300 people, Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia assured the khaps that the wrestlers’ protest is not over yet and is only suspended till June 15. The wrestlers, minus double World Championships medallist Vinesh Phogat, met sports minister Anurag Thakur on Wednesday and agreed to temporarily call off their protest till June 15 by which time the Delhi Police will file a charge sheet.

“I want to assure you that our movement is not done yet. This is a battle for the honour of our daughters. We are neither compromised nor defeated. If we feel that nothing concrete is written in the chargesheet, we will restart our agitation,” Punia said at the meeting that went on for over three hours.

Rio Games bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, her husband Satyavrat Kadian, and Jitender Kumar were the other wrestlers present.

“It was a fruitful meeting,” said Jitender. “We had decided to brief the khap leaders about the discussions that had happened with the sports minister. We will wait till the Delhi Police files the chargesheet on June 15 and if we feel Brij Bhushan is not going to be arrested, we will restart our protest at Jantar Mantar.”

Malik, the lone woman wrestler at the meeting, raised the issue of the minor complainant’s father retracting his complaint.

“We knew this would happen. That’s why we have been demanding Brij Bhushan’s arrest since the first day. You can imagine the pressure her father must be under,” she told the gathering.

Punia also told the khap leaders that he was contacted by Singh in January when the wrestlers had first come out in protest.

“Brij Bhushan had told us that he is ready to accept whatever Bajrang says and he requested us to take a step back. But, we continued our fight against him. We don’t know politics and I assure you that we are fighting for our justice to our daughters. If Brij Bhushan is not sent behind bars, the dream of many girls of playing for India will be shattered forever. If the government fails to arrest him by June 15, the agitation will be restarted either at Jantar Mantar or Ramlila Maidan,” he added.

Later, speaking to the media, Punia said, “The government has given us time till June 15 and has assured us that a strong charge sheet will be filed. If we feel that the charge sheet is weak, we will take a big call. The khaps have assured us their complete support.”

Saturday’s meeting was called by wrestlers to apprise the khaps about their marathon meeting with the sports minister. The meeting with Thakur ended the protracted logjam between the wrestlers and the government and was the first real sign of the two parties finding common ground. The minister also agreed on the complete clean-up of WFI while announcing the election deadline of June 30 and declaring the formation of an Internal Complaints Committee within the federation to be helmed by a woman.

Saturday’s meeting had its share of tense moments, with one khap leader reportedly calling the wrestlers’ attempt to immerse their medals in the Ganga on May 30 a “drama” created in connivance with the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and the central government. The argument, however, was vehemently opposed by other khaps. Senior members of the BKU, including its president Naresh Tikait and spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, and khap and farm leaders from western Uttar Pradesh gave the meeting a miss.

“A number of farmer organisations and khap leaders are not happy with the way they were sidelined. They came to know about the wrestlers’ meetings with the home minister and sports minister through the media. The absence of the Tikait brothers was a way to lodge their unhappiness,” a BKU insider said.

On Friday, a team of Delhi Police visited the WFI office with one of the complainants for about 30 minutes to recreate the sequence of events even as Singh was in his house on the same premises. Punia claimed the complainant is undergoing “mental trauma” after the visit.

“The woman player who accompanied Delhi Police to recreate the crime scene against Singh is mentally upset and the complainants are undergoing mental trauma,” the 29-year-old added.

Malik said that the complainant was lied to by the Delhi Police while they took her inside the WFI office. “When I learned that the woman complainant was taken to the WFI office while Singh was in his home, I can’t tell you how I felt. My heart goes out to her. What kind of investigation is this? The complainant asked the police whether someone is inside and the police told her no. The police lied to her and took her in,” she said.

“We have been demanding Singh’s arrest since Day 1. If he stays outside, he will affect the probe, which he did,” Malik added, referring to the minor’s father changing his statement. “The minor’s dad changed his statement after recording them under Sections 161 and 164 of the CrPc. I am 100 per cent sure the father changed the statement out of fear. If Singh remains free while the investigation is on, he will run his own agenda. All complainants are afraid. If we feel that the investigation is not fair, we will relaunch our agitation. If the investigation was fair, he would have been behind bars by now.”

The minor’s father, meanwhile, claimed that he changed his statement under pressure from his family while hoping for an unbiased probe into the allegations levelled by six other female wrestlers.

Also read: ‘She pushed away’: Wrestling referee opens up on sexual harassment charges against WFI's Brij Bhushan

“So far, I am satisfied with the police action. Contrary to what some may think, I didn’t change my statement under any external pressure, nor did I accept any money. The pressure to withdraw came from my family. I will talk about the issue after the charge sheet is filed,” he told HT on Saturday.

“My daughter is under depression. We have kept her out of our native place for the past two months. She had plans to appear in the age-group trials in Sonepat recently but due to the ongoing investigation, she could neither practise properly nor participate. This is her second consecutive year that has gone to waste,” he added.

Malik said the wrestlers will participate in the upcoming Asian Games only if the ongoing issues are resolved. “We will participate in the Asian Games only when all these issues are resolved. You can’t understand what we’re going through mentally each day,” she was quoted by news agency ANI.

Malik’s name did not feature in the initial Asian Games long list sent by WFI to IOA but the federation sent her name later. Punia and Vinesh Phogat are the defending champions at the event. The ad hoc committee running WFI is likely to conduct Asiad trials between June 22-25 and the protesting wrestlers, it has been learned, will be given a fair chance to earn their place in the Hangzhou-bound squad.

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    Shantanu Srivastava is an experienced sports journalist who has worked across print and digital media. He covers cricket and Olympic sports.

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