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Medals of Glory Saved even as Police Remained a Spectator

Medals of Glory Saved even as Police Remained a Spectator


Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, May 30: While the Delhi police under the BJP government at the centre hunting out the protesting wrestlers from place to place and the Uttarakhand police, also under the BJP, refused to stir, the farmers leader Naresh Tikait has come to the rescue of the Olympic and Asian Games medals that brought glory to the nation.

As the country’s ace wrestlers were preparing to consign their medals in Ganga on Tuesday in protest after the Delhi police using long hand drove them out of the Jantar Mantar protest site and the Haridwar police said they would take no step to stop them from throwing the medals in the Holy river, Naresh Tikait, the brother of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait, reached Haridwar and managed to save the country’s glory from been immersed in the river.

He reportedly talked the wrestlers from taking immediate steps and sought five days’ time before throwing the medals into the river. Tikait also collected all the medals from the protesting wrestlers for safety against any emotional steps.

In an unforeseen turn of event, India’s top grapplers have upped the ante in protesting against the Wrestlers’ Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over the alleged sexual harassment case and reached Haridwar to throw their medals, including the ones won in the Olympics, in river Ganga. Wrestlers including Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat have also announced an indefinite hunger strike at India Gate in New Delhi.

“These medals are our lives, our souls. There would be no reason to live after throwing them in the Ganga today. So, we will stage a hunger strike until death at India Gate after that,” said the joint statement put out by the protesting wrestlers.

Their decision comes two days after the Delhi police crackdown on the champions on Sunday which shocked the nation. The UP police have said they will not deter the wrestlers from their plan to consign the medals to the Ganga. Visuals from the spot show locals consoling the tearful athletes, asking them to hold on to the medals that came to India through years of hard work and dedication.

But for Farm leader’s intervention, India may lost two Olympic medals, and a handful of Commonwealth Games and World Championship medals only to save the skin of the WFI president who happens to be an influential BJP Member of Parliament. Sakshi Malik has won one Olympic bronze and three medals at the Commonwealth Games. Vinesh Phogat has won two World Championship medals, two medals at Asiad and three Commonwealth Games medals. Bajrang Punia has won an Olympic bronze, four World Championships medals, two Asian Games and three Commonwealth Games medals.

The wrestlers, who allege that their protest against wrestling federation chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh has been largely ignored, announced their decision to consign the medals to Ganga in an emotive message today. “It seems that these medals decorated around our necks have no meaning any more,” read a statement in Hindi, tweeted out by top athletes including Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat. “The police and the system are treating us as criminals while the harasser openly attacks us in public meetings,” the wrestlers added, referring to Sunday’s crackdown that took place as Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new parliament.

“These medals are our lives, our souls. There would be no reason to live after immersing them in the Ganga today. So, we will start a hunger strike until death at India Gate after that,” added the statement.

The Delhi Police, who shut the Jantar Mantar protest site to the wrestlers after Sunday’s crackdown, said they will not be allowed to hold a protest at India Gate. The Delhi Police had accused the protesting wrestlers of rioting on Sunday, saying they broke the law in a frenzy despite repeated requests.

On Sunday, the protesters were detained by the Delhi Police as they attempted a protest march to the new parliament. Visuals of the champions Vinesh Phogat and her cousin Sangeeta Phogat being manhandled and pinned onto the ground by the police had evoked shock and outrage across the country.

Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a BJP MP, accused of sexually harassing some of the top wrestlers, was present at the inauguration of the new parliament as the police carried out its crackdown barely 5 km away. He has denied any wrongdoing, but added that he is ready to step down if Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the BJP asks him to.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Punjab counterpart Bhagwant Mann have slammed the BJP-led Central government. “The whole country is shocked… Now the Prime Minister should leave his arrogance,” read a tweet from Kejriwal. Calling the situation “shameful”, Bhagwant Mann tweeted, “If the voice is not raised in time, then the next turn will be to shed the assets of the country’s democracy.”

Refusing the protesting wrestlers permission to hold out at the iconic India Gate, the Delhi police said, “India Gate is not a protest site and we will not allow them (wrestlers) to protest there.” For any other protest site, the wrestlers will have to seek permission, said Delhi’s Deputy Commissioner of Police Suman Nalwa.

Earlier, the wrestlers were moved out of Jantar Mantar, the ground zero for protests.

“These medals are our life and soul. We are going to immerse them in the Ganga because she is Maa Ganga. After that, there is no point of living, so we will sit on a hunger strike until death at India Gate,” said Sakshi Malik, a bronze medallist at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The same statement was also shared by other protesting wrestlers.

Ms Malik said the women wrestlers felt there’s nothing left for them in this country as the “system has treated them cheaply.” On Sunday, unprecedented scenes of police dragging the Olympic and world championships medal-winning players were witnessed when the wrestlers and their supporters breached the security cordon ahead of their march towards the new Parliament building for the planned women’s ‘Mahapanchayat’. The wrestlers have been protesting in Delhi since April 23, demanding the arrest of wrestling body chief Brij Bhushan.

Star wrestlers Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, and Bajrang Punia, who have been at the centre of the renewed protest against Singh, announced earlier in the day that they, along with other protesting grapplers, will hurl their medals into the holy river at 6 pm.

“These medals are our life and soul. We are going to throw them in the Ganges. After that there is no point of living, so we will sit on a hunger strike until death at India Gate,” she said in the statement written in Hindi.

Tuesday happens to be Ganga Dussera in Haridwar, a day when a lot of people are there to offer prayers.

TV visuals showed wrestlers sobbing and holding their medals close as they prepared to toss the medals into the river.

But the Haridwar senior superintendent of police Ajai Singh said: “The wrestlers are free to do anything. If they are coming to immerse their medals in holy Ganga, we won’t stop them. Neither have I received any such instructions from my senior officials.”

Naresh Tikait, the farmer leader, who convinced the wrestlers against hasty action, said, “They (wrestlers) need to be practising on mats in stadiums but have been ill-treated and forced to sit at Jantar Mantar and now at sacred Ganga Ghat. In fact, action should be taken against Brij Bhushan. We are with truth and as farmers’ agitation had shown, sooner or later victory will be of truth,” said Tikait.

Bajrang Punia said there has been no communication from the government side since their announcement to immerse their hard-earned medals in the river.

Congress’s youth wing chief Srinivas BV tweeted, “Prime Minister, what is the crime of these daughters? And what is so special about your favourite Brijbhushan??” “These medals are not bought, they have been won for the country by their hard work. The country’s head has already bowed down in shame, now don’t let them flow in the Ganges.”

Even as uncertainty prevailed if Delhi police will allow the wrestlers to continue their protest, Sakshi Malik said they have not given up. She said the wrestlers were contemplating their next move even as they continued to get support from the sporting fraternity after police action against the top grapplers was unequivocally condemned by many political leaders and sports personalities.

“Police has filed FIR against us when we have not caused any damage to the public property. They were very cruel with us, one woman (wrestler) was being handled by 20 officers, you can see the videos… We want to inform our supporters, who are waiting for us at Gurdwara (in Ambala) and other places, that we spent this day devising our next strategy. We have not stepped back, the protest will continue. We will let you know our next step, keep supporting us,” she said.




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