Courage under fire: Listen to the wrestlers’ voice in India

Published : 25 May 2023 08:22 PM

Neeraj Chopra is now the world number 1 in javelin and politicians who have predictably been lining up to get a pie of the flashbulbs will jostle just a bit more. They will take until he gives and then, it is no one’s guess.

We don’t know how to treat our sporting heroes, maybe it is because we haven’t had too many apart from cricketers or more likely, they are but a means to an end, dispensable as soon as they get off the podium.

Look at our women wrestlers, coming from the state of Haryana with an overwhelming male ratio they were game changers. 

When Sakshi Malik won a bronze at the 2016 Olympics, becoming the first Indian female wrestler to do so, she opened the akharas to countless young girls from a humble background.

When Vinesh Phogat became the first woman wrestler to win gold both at the Commonwealth and Asian Games, the world championship medallist gave girls the gift of a dream.

That vision lies in tatters, why will parents send their daughters into sport when champions are treated like a fly disdainfully tossed from milk while a politician who has confessed to a murder on camera is protected for allegedly sexually abusing them.

For one month the wrestlers have been out on the street, sleeping on a pavement in extreme heat and rain, they claim they have also been assaulted by Delhi police which falls under the home ministry.

A political inconvenience

All this while they have been fighting a lonely battle for justice, a minor has also accused the powerful BJP leader Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India of sexual abuse. Yes, law needs to take its own course, but it should at least be allowed to do so.

Two FIRs have been filed including one under the extremely serious Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act — that too only after the Supreme Court intervened — but the six-time parliamentarian has not been arrested, nor does there seem to be any intent to do so in the foreseeable future.

Bhushan is instead preparing for a political rally next month. Vote bank politics has on occasion played low, but the farce of celebrating our champions is now out in the open. Worse, the apathy in tackling women safety is for all to see, slogans sound good only on paper.

No one has met them, from sports minister Anurag Thapar to minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani it is a fight to the bottom on how to mistreat our heroes.

Push back against them is obstinate and planned, once the powers that be in the country shared photographs with the athletes today, they are a political inconvenience intentionally stonewalled. 

Women ministers with girls in their homes have chosen to stay quiet on sexual abuse nor have contents of the oversight committee that probed the allegations against Bhushan been made public by the sports ministry.

Asian Games is around the corner as are Olympic qualifiers, instead of training Vinesh, Sakshi and the others are taking out a candle march. None of them would have known that training was going to be the easier part and a fight for justice an 

unfair bout 

Women won’t remain silent

The wrestlers have also been deserted by their own sporting fraternity including our overhyped cricketers who only needed to speak up, once. The athletes have also accused the committee headed by legendary boxer Mary Kom of asking for audio and video proof of Bhushan’s misbehaviour. The accussed MP has openly slandered the athletes on more than one occasion. When even household names are not spared victim shaming, then you can imagine how flawed statistics on women safety are in the country.

The junior coach who accused Haryana sports minister and former hockey player Sandeep Singh of sexual abuse is living a nightmare. As with Brij Bhushan, five months after an FIR was filed, there is still no charge sheet against Singh.

“I hardly sleep at night nowadays. I am unable to eat, unable to train … is this what a country does to a woman who tells her story and chooses to speak up?” the victim told The Print.

The fear of the powerful politician who runs their sport is real, only a handful have the courage to risk not just their careers but also their livelihoods. Sports in the hinterland is a means to escape to a better life and the career of these brave wrestlers stands derailed.

Asian Games is around the corner as are Olympic qualifiers, instead of training Vinesh, Sakshi and the others are taking out a candle march. None of them would have known that training was going to be the easier part and a fight for justice an unfair bout.

From a gang rape victim cremated by police in the early morning darkness to accusations by a minor wrestler of sexual abuse by a politician who remains free, the night is long for India’s daughters.

They fear for their families in the villages just as their families are anxious for them in the big city surrounded by the powerful. 

The wrestlers will have to dig in deep within themselves to carry on for the politician will not leave Indian sports alone.

The threats have come but if the wrestlers blink now it will damage more than their own credibility, it will send girls back into their homes. As Vinesh Phogat says, they will stay so other women don’t remain silent. The least we can do is to not let this be the forgotten story.

Jyotsna Mohan is the author of the investigative book ‘Stoned, Shamed, Depressed’. She was also a journalist with NDTV for 15 years. 

Source: Gulf News