India’s wrestling community is in turmoil as top wrestlers continue their protest demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the President of the Wrestling Federation of India.
The wrestlers first took to the streets in January to call for action against the president who has been accused of s**ually harassing female athletes. However, Singh has refuted such claims and stated: “If a single allegation against me is proven, I will hang myself. If you (wrestlers) have any evidence, present it to the Court, and I am ready to accept any punishment.”
Singh is also a member of parliament from PM Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. After Singh was stripped of his administrative powers, the wrestlers temporarily called off their protest.
However, the demands for justice persisted which led the wrestlers to resume their protest on April 23. Determined to secure Singh’s arrest, several Indian wrestlers including Olympic medalists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik set up camp near the recently inaugurated parliament building in New Delhi.
On Sunday, the situation took a dramatic turn as police detained several prominent wrestlers during their intensified protest. Delhi Police forcibly put an end to the demonstration on May 28 by vacating the Jantar Mantar site. After the group tried to march towards the new parliament building, the police dragged wrestlers Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, and Bajrang Punia into the streets, placed them in a bus, and detained them.
The Delhi Police justified their actions by claiming that the wrestlers had breached barricades and failed to comply with their directions, thereby breaking the law. Senior Delhi Police officer Dependra Pathak said in a statement to the local media: “They broke the barricades and didn’t follow police directions. They broke the law, and that’s why they were detained.”
Video footage and photos captured showed the wrestlers being dragged away and manhandled by the police. This sparked a huge outrage among fellow athletes.
Sakshi Malik is a bronze medalist in the women’s 58kg freestyle category at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She tweeted: “This is how our champions are being treated. The world is watching us.”
The United World Wrestling (the organization that oversees the sport internationally) released a statement denouncing the “lack of results” in the investigations of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The UWW reminded the IOA of its commitment to organizing new elections for the WFI within 45 days. Failure to do so might result in the suspension of the federation.