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Farmers’ Ultimatum to Government in Support of Wrestlers

Farmers’ Ultimatum to Government in Support of Wrestlers


Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, June 2: Even as more supports are flowing from the sports persons, a section of the BJP cadre and general public to the protesting wrestlers, the farmer leaders who are supporting India’s top athletes in their fight against Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on Friday gave a fresh ultimatum to the centre – arrest him or face a larger protest.

“We have taken a decision that the government must address the grievances of wrestlers and he (Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh) should be arrested. Otherwise, we will go with the wrestlers to Jantar Mantar in Delhi on June 9 and hold panchayats across the nation,” farmer leader Rakesh Tikait said.

The centre, however, has remained unmoved with the union sports minister repeating his oft-quoted assurance, “We all want justice to be provided to the agitating wrestlers, but only after following the due process of law.” He again urged the wrestlers to allow the Delhi police to complete their investigations on the two FIRs filed on the basis of the complaints by seven female wrestlers including a minor.

But the minister gave no indication when would be the “due process of Law” completed and the wrestlers granted justice, even as some other BJP ministers, including the union minister for women and child welfare Smriti Irani, who had been championing the cause of women, on this issue is clearly siding with his male party colleague Brij Bhushan Singh, who is an influential BJP MP.

Several Olympic and World Championship medal-winning wrestlers, including Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sangeeta Phogat, have been protesting here demanding Singh’s arrest for allegedly sexually harassing several female grapplers, including a minor. They had also threatened to immerse their medals of glory in the Ganga river but at the last moment was talked out of it by the farm leader Narensh Tikait.

The latest to extend support to the agitating wrestlers was the 1983 Cricket World Cup winning team and a large number of individual cricketers.  Members of the 1983 World Cup winning cricket team also urged them not to take any hasty decision while hoping that players’ issues will be “heard and resolved.”

In a joint statement, the 1983 triumphant team said it was distressed and disturbed after seeing the visuals of the wrestlers being manhandled but also hoped that law of the land will prevail.

On May 28, the Delhi Police had detained the wrestlers for alleged violation of law and order when they marched towards the new Parliament building without permission. The Police also cleared the protest site and made it clear that the wrestlers will not be allowed back at Jantar Mantar.

The police action against the wrestlers had invited criticism from different quarters. “We are distressed and disturbed at the unseemly visuals of our champion wrestlers being manhandled. We are also most concerned that they are thinking of dumping their hard-earned medals into river Ganga,” a statement released by the 1983 World Cup-winning team read.

“Those medals have involved years of effort, sacrifice, determination, and grit and are not only their own but the nation’s pride and joy. We urge them not to take any hasty decision in this matter and also fervently hope that their grievances are heard and resolved quickly. Let the law of the land prevail,” the statement read further.

Under legendary skipper Kapil Dev, the Indian cricket team had humbled the mighty Clive Lloyd-led West Indies to win the country’s first World Cup trophy. “I am not going to say anything individually, the whole of 1983 team stands by the statement we have issued,” Kapil said. The other members of the 83 batch include Roger Binny, who is now BCCI President, Sunil Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath, K Srikanth, Syed Kirmani, Yashpal Sharma, Madan Lal, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Sandeep Patil and Kirti Azad.

The World Cup final was played at the Lord’s on June 25, 1983. Among other former Indian cricketers, Anil Kumble, Robin Uthappa and Irfan Pathan have shown solidarity with the elite wrestlers. Active cricketers are yet to comment on the controversy.

Reigning Olympic champion in javelin throw, Neeraj Chopra and India’s first individual Olympic gold medallist, shooter Abhinav Bindra have also expressed anguish that wrestlers were forced on to the streets while demanding justice.

The BJP government at the centre has so far refrained from taking any action against the accused Singh who has kept claiming innocence and was planning to mobilise sadhus of Ayodhya against the agitating wrestlers. He had planned to organise a sant sammelan in Ayodhya on June 5 on the issue. However, the Ayodhya district administration on Friday refused him permission for the gathering.

An official said the Circle Officer (Ayodhya) SP Gautam said in view of other programmes scheduled on the World Environment Day on June 5, the permission sought by BJP councillor Chamela Devi on behalf of Singh has been denied. Singh, in a Facebook post, said he has postponed the ‘Jan Chetna Maharally’ at the Ram Katha Park for “a few days” due to the ongoing police probe into the wrestlers’ allegation against him. Singh is the BJP MP from Kaiserganj in Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP’s Maharashtra MP Pritam Munde on Friday expressed pain at the government’s inaction against the WFI chief and said cognisance should be taken of a complaint made by any woman. Later, authorities can decide whether the complaint is proper or not, Ms Munde said adding that she expects action to be taken in the present case.

“I, not as a Member of Parliament, but as a woman, say that if such a complaint comes from any woman, then its cognisance should be taken. It should be verified,” Ms Munde said. After verification, authorities should decide whether it is proper or improper, she said, adding that “If cognisance is not taken, then it is not welcomed in democracy.” “Even though I am a part of this government, it has to be accepted that the way the government should have communicated with the wrestlers has not happened,” Ms Munde said.

Earlier, Haryana BJP MP Brijendra Singh called the protest ‘absolutely heart-breaking’ as the wrestlers recently threatened to immerse their medals in the river Ganga. They were stopped by farmers’ union leader Naresh Tikait. “I feel the pain and helplessness of our wrestlers, forcing them to the brink of throwing away their lifetime of hard work- the medals from Olympics, CWGs, Asian Games in the holy Ganga. Absolutely heart-breaking,” Brijendra Singh tweeted.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said the way protesting Indian wrestlers were treated by the Delhi Police during their protest march was “very disturbing” and that allegations by the wrestlers should be followed up on by an unbiased, criminal investigation.



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