‘India’s Women Wrestlers BETRAYED under PM’s ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ Scheme’- Sunil Kumar Bajal-CPI (M) Leader during a protest condemning Sexual Harassment on India’s Women Wrestlers, held near Clock Tower in the City, on Monday, 5 June 2023
Mangaluru: The BJP government’s response to the wrestlers’ allegations reflects the “architecture of intimidation” women in India commonly face when they report sexual assault at the workplace, which includes denial, silencing, harassment and even defamation cases. The decorated medallist women wrestlers have been protesting since January 2023, when they went public with grave allegations of sexual harassment by the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India, a BJP MP. They were met with denial, silence, and little to no action by the authorities. The wrestlers have been sitting in protest at Jantar Mantar, at the height of the Delhi summer, demanding redressal of their grievances, accountability and the arrest of the WFI chief.
However, the WFI has denied the allegations, dismissing them as politically motivated. It was only after the wrestlers moved to the Supreme Court that an FIR, the first step in a criminal investigation, was filed. The wrestlers have also pointed out the hypocrisy of a government that campaigns to “Save Daughters” but remains silent and unresponsive to Olympic athletes protesting against sexual harassment.
Indians have won 21 individual Olympic medals since Independence, six of which are in wrestling. This is not to say that only women who receive medals deserve to be believed or deserve access to remedies; this is our constitutional guarantee. What they are facing today is institutional betrayal. As the country’s elected leaders came together to celebrate a new parliament building in a spectacle of democracy, the spirit of democracy itself had been hollowed out by the lack of response to cries of sexual harassment and protests.
It has taken exceptional courage and strength for the wrestlers to place their legitimacy, career, and life on the line and speak out about sexual harassment. The courage and endurance exhibited by them are inspirational. It is also an opportunity for the government to show institutional courage and its commitment to the rights of women. The Union government must expeditiously address the allegations made by women wrestlers, end the culture of impunity of perpetrators of such violence and by following legal procedure in letter and spirit, affirm women’s dignity and equality.
The women wrestlers as well as other sportspersons along with women and farmers who joined the protest to express their solidarity in the fight against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a BJP member of parliament who is accused of sexual harassment, were forcibly dragged by the police, even disregarding the national flags they held, and took them to various police stations. Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Poonia and others who won medals for India were assaulted and arrested without any provocation.
There is no news of their whereabouts till now. The protest tent where they had been carrying out a peaceful struggle was also destroyed by the police. This exposes BJP’s anti-women, undemocratic character and how low they can stoop to protect people accused of sexual harassment. It shows the hollowness of the prime minister’s Beti Bachao slogan.
The different organizations like DYFI, AITUC, and Karnataka Raitha Sangha, among many others, called upon all democratic sections to rise in protest. They all warned the Narendra Modi-led BJP government that the struggle will be intensified and carried on till the sexual harassers are arrested and punished. They condemned the repression unleashed by the Modi government. The protesters said that they all stand in solidarity with wrestlers and all activists who are safeguarding democracy by supporting the movement. They demanded that action be taken against the WFI Chief and others involved in the harassment of India’s women Wrestlers.
LETTER OF SUPPORT FROM THE CONFERENCE OF RELIGIOUS IN INDIA (CRI)
Dear young women,
We the women and men of the Conference of Religious in India [CRI] salute you for having dared to challenge patriarchy and asserted your rights as women and of human dignity. The CRI is a forum of more than 1.25 lakh Catholic Nuns, Brothers and Fathers, working all over the country in educational institutions, medical centres, and social welfare groups in rural and urban areas. We are politically non-aligned but stand for human rights and development, and the empowerment of the poor and the marginalized. Women wrestlers of India set high standards and show a mirror to those who do not dare to stand on principles, or even to stand in solidarity with brave women such as you and your fellow men wrestlers.
You stand as an example to women who are helpless in the face of recurring sexual harassment at the workplace or in the neighbourhood and public spaces because they are alone, weak, poor or trapped in poisonous relationships. We condemn the brutal and uncivilized manner in which the police behaved with you and forcibly terminated your rightful agitation at Jantar Mantar. You broke many a ceiling when you took to wrestling and brought honours to the country in arenas far more prestigious than the commercial grounds of big-money sports.
We, therefore, thank Kapil Dev and the first Indian team to win the Cricket World Cup that they have extended support to your just cause, as have Olympic Champions such as Abhinav Bindra and Neeraj Chopra. We also call upon the Union Government to take the steps that are necessary to see that justice takes its course in your complaints of sexual molestation and harassment. That one of the victims is a minor adds further urgency to this matter. That is a case where not only the police but also the National Commission for Protection of Children must act, invoke the powerful Law of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences, and move the Supreme Court as powerful political forces are protecting the accused.
We note that the Prime Minister is aware of your charges. He has often spoken of his support for the cause of women in India and has implemented several projects for their uplift. We hope he will do what is necessary to start investigations into the charges of molestation and other sexual offences. This will help ensure that such crimes are not committed in future, especially by men in high office.
Yours in solidarity,
Sr. Nirmalini Nazareth A.C.
President Conference of Religious in India (On behalf of the CRI Executive Committee)
CLICK ON THE VIDEO LINK BELOW TO LISTEN TO THE SPEECHES OF VARIOUS LEADERS CONDEMNING THE HARASSMENT OF INDIA’S WOMEN WRESTLERS, AND SEEKING JUSTICE