The treatment meted out to wrestlers reflects new India
The treatment meted out to wrestlers is a true reflection of the new India. An India where victims are constantly hounded; an India where the powerful are protected at any cost regardless of their misdemeanors.
Olympic medallists are a rarity in India. Not many of the 1.4 billion people in the country have what it takes to go up against the best in the world and win laurels in the world of sports.
But what is even rarer is Olympics and World Championships medallists taking to the streets and demanding justice – against the very own people who are sworn in to protect their interests.
Some of the best wrestlers in Indian history including Olympic and World Championships medallists like Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, and others spent a second consecutive night on the pavements at Jantar Mantar as their calls for action against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President Brij Bushan Sharan Singh continues to fall on deaf ears.
In the last two days, the only official of note to have visited the protesting wrestlers has been the Sports Authority of India Director General Shiv Sharma.
In a country where all the top athletes get photographed regularly with the Prime Minister, often at his residence, it is quite strange that none of the Ministers have set foot at the protest site over the last two days.
The Youth Affairs and Sports Minister, in particular, is nowhere to be seen. Even when the protests first broke out in January earlier this year, Anurag Thakur – the Sports Minister, came in as a mediator only on the third day.
But again, the wrestlers were not spending their night under an open night sky at the Jantar Mantar three months back.
“Hamare saath rajneeti kheli gayi hai (They played politics with us and coaxed us into calling off the protest last time),” was the constant sentiment from all those protestors as they called for more support for their movement and alleged that they were threatened for raising their voice, this time around.
This is in stark contrast to January when they constantly requested not to politicise their struggle.
The wrestlers, back then, seemed to have a lot of faith in the system. They were naive enough to believe just assurances and promises from a politician were enough for their problems to be addressed.
But, all of that seemed to have changed now.
The oversight committee appointed by the Sports Ministry in January to look into all the allegations made against the WFI and Brij Bushan Sharan Singh included some of the most well-known athletes from the country. They later added Babita Phogat – sister of Vinesh and sister-in-law of Bajrang, to the committee. It was easy to believe that the protests will have a rosy end.
But both Bajrang and Vinesh have openly expressed displeasure and lack of trust with the oversight committee’s working methods.
“We have not spoken to Babita since she joined the committee,” said Bajrang, indicating a major tiff between the two parties.
Vinesh on the other hand added, “Babita came to mediate, but she is with a political party now. We do not trust anyone now.”
The wrestlers, since they restarted their protest, have stressed that Delhi Police refused to register their FIR against Brij Bushan Sharan Singh. They have now approached the Supreme Court with a writ petition.
Sports are a microcosm of society
“Sports are a microcosm of society,” said the great Billie Jean King almost a decade back.
Though she was talking about gender inequalities in sports then, it is hard not to reflect on this statement as some of India’s best athletes continue to fight for their rights at Jantar Mantar.
In a country where convicted gang rapists of Bilkis Bano are set free by the judiciary because of “good behaviour” and are garlanded at public events by politicians for “good sanskar,” is it even a surprise if the police refuse to register FIR against a powerful politician on sexual harassment allegations?
The treatment meted out to the wrestlers is a true reflection of the new India. An India where victims are constantly hounded – Hathras and Unnao rape cases for example, an India where the powerful are protected at any cost regardless of their misdemeanors.
“Ye desh tumhe nirash nahi dekh sakta (This country cannot see you sad),” were the Prime Minister’s words to Vinesh Phogat, when the wrestler returned from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics without a medal.
But now when the World Championships medallist really needs support, India remains eerily silent.
If this is how some of the country's best high-performance athletes, who have brought countless laurels to the country are treated, what chance does a common man stand to get justice?