Olympic medal-winning female wrestlers voice their doubts about the police’s inaction in response to allegations of sexual harassment against a BJP MP

Following the establishment of the new parliamentary structure in New Delhi by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, several prominent Indian wrestlers, including Olympic medalists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, have found themselves charged with rioting and misconduct. The charges were brought against them by the police after they were arrested during a march to the capital’s parliamentary building.

The wrestlers, along with their supporters, were apprehended following clashes near the parliament as they escalated their protest, demanding the arrest of their federation leader over allegations of sexual harassment. While some of the protesters were later released by the police on Sunday, formal complaints were filed against them under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, encompassing charges of rioting and obstructing a public servant’s duty through assault and unlawful force.

For the past month, these wrestlers have been actively engaged in their protest in the capital, calling for action against Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, a member of parliament from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. They have demanded Singh’s immediate arrest and sought the intervention of the Supreme Court, which directed the police to initiate a case against the 66-year-old. Singh, who formerly headed the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), has vehemently denied all allegations of harassment leveled against him by several female athletes.

The wrestlers had attempted to march towards the newly inaugurated parliamentary building while Prime Minister Modi was present, but they were met with a substantial police presence, resulting in their detention. Among those taken into custody were Olympic bronze medalists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia.

Expressing her concerns prior to her detention, Sakshi Malik emphasized the threat to democracy, stating, “On one hand, parliament is being inaugurated, and on the other hand, democracy is being undermined. This is absolutely unacceptable.”

Malik and Punia are revered as national icons in a country that has yearned for Olympic success. Prime Minister Modi had previously praised Malik for her 2016 Rio de Janeiro medal and congratulated Punia for his achievement at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The wrestlers now accuse the Modi government of disregarding their complaints, which they find deeply troubling, especially considering the Prime Minister’s portrayal of himself as a champion of women’s rights.

Senior Delhi Police officer Dependra Pathak, speaking about the wrestlers, stated, “They breached the barricades and failed to comply with police instructions. They violated the law, which led to their detention.”

Security measures in the capital were heightened in preparation for the parliamentary inauguration, with additional personnel deployed at the outskirts of Delhi to prevent farmers from joining the wrestlers’ protest. Earlier this month, several farmers had forcibly removed police barricades in the city to show their solidarity with the ongoing demonstration.

Wrestling is widely regarded as one of India’s most successful Olympic sports, with the country securing a total of 21 medals in individual events since gaining independence 76 years ago, seven of which were won by wrestlers.

The majority of Indian wrestlers hail from rural areas, many from underprivileged backgrounds, particularly in the highly patriarchal region of Haryana, which grapples with issues such as female foeticide and the prevalence of “honour killings” targeting women.

Female athletes have long endured instances of sexual harassment within their sports, although they have often been reluctant to come forward publicly. Saurabh Mishra, a sports lawyer and activist, explained, “Many athletes have confided in me about various forms of exploitation they have experienced, but they are unwilling to expose these issues while they are at their peak. The seeking of favors, whether financial or sexual, is not uncommon. In my opinion, the primary culprits are sports federation officials who run their organizations like personal fiefdoms.

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