Written By Darshan M (Grade 10)
Why does our system fail to respect players who represent the country at the international level? Earlier this year in January some well-known faces came down the streets and held a protest. They included Olympic medalists Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat. They say that the President of the Wrestling Federation Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh sexually assaulted some female wrestlers in which one of them was a minor. Later, wrestlers were assured that required action will be taken for further investigation. But, now the month of May has started, and seeing no action being taken our wrestlers are upset.
Let’s first understand why our wrestlers are protesting and what they want from the government. This story begins in January 2023 when champion wrestler Vinesh Phogat started receiving calls from young wrestlers. A national wrestling camp was being organized in Lucknow, and on these calls, girls said that the environment in this camp wasn’t safe for them. Here they also said that the President of the Wrestling Federation Brij Bhushan sexually assaulted them. He is not only the chief of the Wrestling Federation but also a big leader of the BJP and also an MP.
After this, these protests started, many wrestlers participated, and that national camp was cancelled. News of this protest spread across the country and many other girls came forward. Vinesh Phogat in an interview said that initially 2-3 girls could prove sexual harassment with proof and now she has 5-6 girls who can prove it. Some calls were from the states of Kerala, and Maharashtra. Our sports minister, Anurag Thakur, and Indian Olympic Association’s President, PT Usha had a meeting with these wrestlers and assured them that there will be investigations done on these allegations. But, Brij Bhushan stated that all the allegations were baseless and even if one girl can prove these then I should be hanged.
Wrestlers participating in this protest will not be able to get any medals for India after this because the reality is that they are angry with the system and its rules. Brij Bhushan said that some big businessman is funding this protest against him. This protest calmed down when our sports minister, Anurag Thakur announced forming an oversight committee and also said that they would complete the investigation in four weeks. He also added that Brij Bhushan will be removed from his post after the completion of this investigation. Indian Olympic Association also formed a seven-member committee and Mary Kom was in charge of this committee.
This year is important for our wrestlers because Olympic qualifiers will be taking place. So, wrestlers stopped their protest and anticipated the investigation to be completed. From the 1990s till date Brij Bhushan has been elected six times and is holding an MP post from his constituency Gonda. Local people say that Brij Bhushan is strong in his constituency. In 2004, BJP gave him a ticket from Balrampur. Another candidate who was standing for elections from his constituency was killed on the day of polling. When he was in jail his wife fought the elections and she won it. He was a prime suspect in the demolition case of the Babri Masjid. He gets out of any case levelled against him, sometimes evidence doesn’t come to light and sometimes people won’t reach the court. This is an example to show the weakness of our judicial system. Since 2011 he won elections of the Wrestling Federation and became the President. The sponsorship amount released by the government to the wrestlers was half eaten by Brij Bhushan and only the remaining was given to players. Our wrestlers have declared war against this kind of influential man.
Wrestlers are fed up with the slow process and they want to file an FIR against Brij Bhushan. Many people ask that the girls who faced sexual harassment aren’t coming forward, and the reason for this is Brij Bhushan’s power and his political history. Wrestlers say that if the Prime Minister or the Home Minister is ready to meet them they can meet the girls with proof. If we don’t listen to their demands today they imagine what will happen to our sport tomorrow.
This year is important to India as a host of the G20, so we need to take immediate action on these kinds of protests. Today our wrestlers are saying that the whole Wrestling Federation has become corrupt and the whole system needs an overhaul. Perhaps, the same logic needs to be applied not only in wrestling but also in different sports fields.
India is an amazing country. The people who we consider heroes are now coming on the streets and we don’t listen to them. Imagine, in this case, they are the stars in wrestling and are Olympic medal winners and that’s why the media and many leaders give them importance. What if they were unknown and new athletes will their voices be heard?
Only 17% of women in our country are part of the workforce. That means today, in 2023, girls going out to work is a taboo topic. So imagine what would happen in a male-dominated sporting field. If parents hear such harassment cases from this field will they send their daughter to this specific field? Why are there only politicians holding posts in all sports federations? Giving that post to an ex-athlete will be more sensible because they are the ones who know the sport in and out and they can improve the sporting condition in our country.
Featured Image Courtesy – BBC