Commonwealth Games gold medallist wrestler Babita Phogat hung her boots quite some time back and began her political career with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last year.
Since then, she has drawn flak quite often with her tweets that spout of bigotry and targetting one particular community. In the latest development, Babita made another bigoted statement. The medal-winning Indian wrestler said on Wednesday that ‘Jahil Jamatis’ are a bigger problem than coronavirus in India.
The 30-year-old took to Twitter and wrote in Hindi: “कोरोना वायरस भारत की दूसरे नंबर की सबसे बड़ी समस्या है। जाहिल जमाती अभी भी पहले नंबर पर बना हुआ है।”
(“Coronavirus is India’s second biggest problem. Jahil Jamati remain the biggest problem in India.”)
The communally charged tweet was heavily panned across but got hidden under the rug after Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut’s sister and manager Rangoli Chandel managed to grab Twitterati’s attention – for all the wrong reasons.
Chandel, On Wednesday, Chandel posted a tweet saying, “A Jamaati dies of corona…when police went to check their families they were attacked and killed, secular media,” she wrote. Chandel further added, “…make these mullas + secular media stand in a line and shoot them dead… f***k history, they may call us Nazis (but) who cares. Life is more important than fake image”.
Twitter took note of the deeply communal and Islamophobic tweet and suspended her controversial account indefinitely. Phogat, unhinged by the netizens calling her out on her tweet, put out another tweet on Thursday and this was when all hell broke loose. Seemingly taking a stand for Rangoli, Phogat wrote that Twitter didn’t like those who spoke “truth” on its platform.
On Friday, #SuspendBabitaPhogat became the top trending hashtag on Twitter in India.
This is not the first time Babita made a controversial statement. Earlier this month, the Commonwealth Games Gold medallist had made a cryptic tweet in Hindi: “फैला होगा चमगादड़ से तुम्हारे वहा। हमारे हिंदुस्तान में तो जाहिल सूअरों से फैल रहा है”
(“At your place it (coronavirus) might have spread through bats, in Hindustan it spread through illiterate pigs.”)
She has been heavily criticised for allegedly communalising the Nizamuddin incident, amid a spike in the coronavirus cases in the country. Some users said that Babita’s claim to fame was Aamir Khan’s Dangal, and that people hardly knew her before that film.
Even as a user posted, “Aamir Khan brought insignificant hate mongering fools like Babita Phogat to the limelight and today she shamelessly abuses his community!”
Aamir’s 2016 release Dangal was an all-time blockbuster that narrated the story of the Phogat sisters Babita and Geeta, who were coached into becoming champions by their ex-wrestler father Mahavir Phogat.
Phogat took her tweet down and put out a clarification. She said, “What else should I call those who attack doctors, police, nurses in this crisis.”
“I have no motive to write against any particular caste. I have written against the attackers and will keep writing even further,” she added.
Nizamuddin was first reported as a COVID-19 “hotbed” after a congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat that took place in Bangalewaali Masjid, days before India went into a 21-day lockdown. Jamaatis came from across India as well as abroad, the latter possibly bringing the virus with them and spreading it around the Markhaz during the event.
The rising cases of coronavirus in India, however, have brought with it an increase in fake news and Islamophobic propaganda as well. Since news of the Jamaat congregation being a COVID-19 cluster broke, a variety of fake news and rumours related to coronavirus have been spread against Muslims of India under hashtags such as #CORONAJIHAD and #NizamuddinIdiot
The paradigm of sports has always functioned as an intersection of political, economic, social, religious and cultural issues, and the insouciant labelling of sports as mere fun and entertainment cannot take away from this reality. Sports surpasses the realm of these divisions and unites the country. The wrestlers remark her certainly takes the spirit of sports to a new low. At a time, when the country is uniting to wage the war against a pandemic with sportspersons actively contributing towards the cause, Babita’s remarks are only spewing a divisive narrative, which is harmful for India’s secular fabric.