New Delhi, May 30, 2023: India’s top wrestlers, who have been protesting against BJP MP and chief of the country’s wrestling federation Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, accused of sexually harassing several women wrestlers, including a minor, today said they will "immerse" their medals in the Ganga river at the holy city Haridwar in Uttarakhand as they feel it has "no meaning" any more, and is only being used as a "mask" for propaganda by the system. The wrestlers have already left for Haridwar, and plan to immerse the medals at 6 pm today, after which they will sit on a fast-unto-death at the India Gate in Delhi, they’ve said.
Even though "their lives would have no meaning" after losing the medals, they can’t continue to compromise their self-respect, they have said.
"...it seems that these medals decorated around our necks have no meaning any more. It was killing me just thinking of returning them, but what use is a life lived compromising on your self-respect," a letter in Hindi, tweeted out by top athletes who have been leading the protests since earlier this year, said.
The letter said they wondered who they’d return the medals to. "The President, who is a woman herself, sat barely two kilometres away and watched. She didn’t say anything," it said, on why they didn’t feel like returning it to her.
The wrestlers accused the Prime Minister of not asking about them "even once".
"Instead, our oppressor (Brij Bhushan Singh) was at the inauguration of the new parliament building in dazzling white clothes, getting pictures clicked. This white was stinging us as if it was saying ’I am the system’," the letter, tweeted by top grapplers Sakshee Malikkh, Vinesh Phogat, and Bajrang Punia, further said.
We don’t need these medals any more because this system does its own propaganda by hanging them around our necks and putting a mask on us, it said. "They then exploit us, and put us in jail if we protest," it added.
The wrestlers said they have chosen the Ganga River as it is "our mother". As holy as they consider the Ganga, they worked hard with just as much purity to win these medals, they said, adding that the medals are holy for the entire county and the holy river is the appropriate place for them.
The letter began by accusing the police of brutally cracking down on their "peaceful" protest march, ransacking their protest site, and filing FIR in serious cases against them.
"The police and the system are treating us as criminals while the harasser openly attacks us in public meetings," it said, claiming that even changes to the law to protect minors, POCSO Act, are being openly discussed.
"Us women wrestlers are feeling there’s nothing left for us in this country. We are recalling the moments when we won at the Olympics and World Championships," it said.
The Delhi Police had yesterday accused the protesting wrestlers of rioting, saying the protesters yesterday broke the law in a frenzy despite repeated requests. The wrestlers have refuted the charge that they were rioting, or indulged in any violence.
"If the wrestlers apply for permission to stage a sit-in again in the future, they will be allowed at any of the suitable, notified places other than Jantar Mantar," the Deputy Commissioner of Police, New Delhi, tweeted in Hindi.
Delhi police personnel were seen manhandling Olympians and Commonwealth Games champions in the national capital yesterday during their protest march to the new parliament. Shocked social media users across the country said it was ironic that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was inaugurating the new parliament building, calling it the temple of democracy, barely two km away from where the Delhi police, which is under the Centre’s control, was seen cracking down on India’s top women athletes.
Earlier this month, the ace wrestlers alleged that a group of drunk Delhi Police personnel targeted them when they wanted to bring in mattresses to sleep on a rainy day. The policemen beat them up and abused the women wrestlers, they had said.
Several grapplers were hit on the head and two of them sustained injuries. One person had to be taken to the hospital.