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Vinesh Phogat returns Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards

Writing an open letter to PM Narendra Modi, Vinesh asked, 'Are we female players made only to appear in government advertisements?'

Wrestler Vinesh Phogat at Tokyo Olympics

FILE PHOTO: Vinesh Phogat is in action at the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo credit: United World Wrestling)


The Bridge Desk

Updated: 26 Dec 2023 2:42 PM GMT

Wrestler Vinesh Phogat, India's only Asian Games gold medal-winning woman wrestler, returned her Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards on Tuesday in protest against former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh loyalist Sanjay Singh's victory in the elections.

"I am returning my Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjun awards. Many thanks to the almighty for bringing us to this condition. Are we female players made only to appear in government advertisements?" remarked Vinesh on X while writing an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"Sakshi Malik has quit wrestling and Bajrang Punia has returned his Padma Shri. The whole country knows why the players who won Olympic medals for the country were forced to do all this, and you are the head of the country, so this matter must have reached you too. Prime Minister, I am Vinesh Phogat, the daughter of your house, and I am writing this letter to you to tell you about the condition I am in for the last one year," Vinesh wrote in a scathing letter.

"I remember the year 2016 when Sakshi Malik won a medal in the Olympics, your government made her the brand ambassador of “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” (scheme). When this was announced, all the women players of the country were happy and were sending congratulatory messages to each other. Today, ever since Sakshi had to leave wrestling, I am remembering that year 2016 again and again. Are we female players made only to appear on government advertisements?" asked the 29-year-old athlete from Haryana.

"We have no objection to those advertisements being published, because from the slogans written in them, it seems that your government wants to work seriously for the upliftment of daughters. I had dreamed of winning a medal in the Olympics, but now this dream is also fading. I would just pray that this dream of the upcoming women players is definitely fulfilled," she wrote further.

"But our lives are not at all like those fancy advertisements. What the women wrestlers have experienced in the last few years must have made one understand how suffocated we are living," stated Vinesh.

"Those fancy flex boards of your advertisements must have become old and now Sakshi has also retired. The exploiter has also declared his dominance, and has also raised slogans in a very crude manner. Just spare 5 minutes of your life and listen to the statements given by that man in the media, you will know what all he has done. He has called women wrestlers 'Manthra', has openly admitted on TV that he has made women wrestlers uncomfortable and has not left even a single opportunity to humiliate us, the women players. What is more serious is that it has forced many female wrestlers to step back. This is very scary," wrote Vinesh.

'We won medals for the country..now we are being called traitors'

"Many times I tried to forget this entire incident but it is not so easy. Sir, when I met you, I told you all this too. We have been dragging ourselves on the streets for the last one year for justice. No one is taking care of us. Sir, our medals and awards are being said to be worth Rs 15, but these medals are dearer to us than our lives. When we won medals for the country, the whole country considered us proud. Now when we raised our voice for our justice, we are being called traitors. Prime Minister, I want to ask you, are we traitors?" asked the athlete.

"I don't know under what condition Bajrang would have decided to return his Padma Shri. But I am suffocating inside after seeing that photo of hers. After that now I too have started feeling disgusted with my awards. When I received these awards, my mother distributed sweets in our neighbourhood and told my aunts and uncles that Vinesh's news had come on TV and they should watch it. My daughter looks so beautiful receiving the award.

Many times I get scared thinking that when my aunt sees our condition on TV, what will she say to my mother? No mother in India would want her daughter to be in this condition. Now I want to get rid of the image of Vinesh receiving the award because that was a dream and what is happening with us now is the reality. I was given Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjun Award which have no meaning in my life now. Every woman wants to live life with respect. Therefore Prime Minister Sir, I want to return my Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjun Award to you so that these awards do not become a burden on us in the path of living with dignity. Daughter of your house," the letter concluded.

Vinesh Phogat became the third wrestler to return their awards after Bajrang Punia, who left his Padma Shri medallion on the footpath of Kartavya Path outside the residence of PM Modi. DeafOlympian Virender Singh also pledged to return his Padma Shri award.

Earlier, Sakshi Malik, the 2016 Rio Olympics silver medallist, announced her retirement in protest against Sanjay Singh's win.

Vinesh, Sakshi and Bajrang were the face of the wrestlers' protest.

Wrestlers have been protesting against Brij Bhushan, who has been charged with sexual harassment, molestation and intimidation by six women wrestlers in a Delhi court, since January this year.

The delayed poll of WFI was conducted on December 21. However, after the wrestlers raised objections to the results, the sports ministry suspended the newly elected committee of the WFI and requested the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to run the day-to-day affairs of the federation.

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