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Another Top Wrestler Returns Padma Shri in Protest

Another Top Wrestler Returns Padma Shri in Protest

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Dec 23: After Sakshi Mallick announced her premature retirement and Bajrang Punia decided to return the “Padma Shri” award, another top wrestler Deaflympics gold medallist Virender Singh Yadav on Saturday also returned his “Padma Shri” award in support of the Sakshi Mallick following the election to the post of the Wrestlers Federation of India (WFI) president Sanjay Singh, a close aide of the tainted former chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

Yadav, better known as Goonga Pehlwan, on Saturday said he has also decided to return his Padma Shri to the government showing solidarity with the country’s top wrestlers who have objected to election of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh loyalist Sanjay Singh as WFI president.

In its first reaction on the developments, the Haryana government, the state to which both Sakshi Mallick and Punia belonged, said decisions should not be taken emotionally. Haryana’s Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala said, “Emotions should not drive decision-making. Federation elections were held and the results came. But it is not right to take such a big step,” Mr Chautala said.

Bajrang Punia had on Friday said he has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and will return the Padma Shri given to him. After making the announcement on X, the Olympic medal-winning wrestler reached central Delhi’s Kartavya Path on Friday evening and kept the Padma Shri medallion on a footpath there. It was later picked up by the police.

“When the women wrestlers are not given due respect, I do not deserve this honour either. We were on the road for 40 days, but the promises made by the government have not been fulfilled. Our fight is not against the government, but against an individual. I believe in the judiciary but, with what is happening, I can’t keep faith in the system,” Mr Punia told reporters on Friday.

Throwing his weight behind Olympic bronze medallist grappler Sakshi Malik, Yadav on Saturday said, “I will also return the Padma Shri for my sister and the country’s daughter. Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji, I am proud of your daughter and my sister Sakshi Mallick.” Virender wrote on X.

He also urged the country’s iconic sports personalities such as Sachin Tendulkar and Neeraj Chopra to give their opinion on the issue. “I would also request the top players of the country to also give their decision,” Virender, said in his post, tagging cricket legend Tendulkar and Olympic champion javelin thrower Chopra. Virender had received the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award, in 2021. Before that, he was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2015.

Sakshi, Bajrang and Vinesh Phogat had demanded that no close associate of Brij Bhushan should enter the WFI. The three top wrestlers had accused Brij Bhushan of sexually exploiting several women wrestlers. They had even contemplated throwing away their medals into river Ganga on May 30 in Haridwar but the farmer leaders had convinced them not to take the step.

Vijender Singh, India’s first boxer to win an Olympics medal, also announced his support to Ms Mallick on Friday. “The parents of the daughters would be concerned that if an Olympic medallist is not given justice, how will we get it? The PM, Vice President, and President all should come and answer why this happened… This raises a lot of questions on the justice system and the democratic structure,” Vijender Singh had said.

The new WFI boss Sanjay Singh is a long-time aide of Brij Bhushan, who was WFI chief for 12 years. A six-time BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh, Brij Bhushan had to step aside after top wrestlers accused him of sexually harassing women wrestlers.

 

 

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