“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
- George Orwell
As our civilization continues to move closer to a world that Orwell warned us about, the mere act of thinking can become a moment of significance. This article will attempt to draw the reader’s attention to one such event, which might be considered historical because of its potential of resistance in the face of totalitarian forces.
On January 18, 2023, the wrestlers including Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, and Anshu Malik, among many others, voiced out their dissent by protesting against Brij Bhushan who was acting as the Chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), at Jantar Mantar. On January 20, a complaint was also written by the protesters which demanded the formation of an inquiry committee to thoroughly probe the allegations and the appointment of a new chief for WFI. A panel consisting of 3 members was formed by IOA on April 27, 2023. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been accused of sexually harassing female wrestlers for more than 10 years. After an intervention on behalf of the Supreme Court, an FIR was registered against him on April 28, 2023.
On May 28, 2023, the inauguration of the new Parliament had to take place. Some few kilometers away, the wrestlers were marching to attend a meeting they had planned to discuss the course of action against Brij Bhushan. However, Bajrang Punia, and Vinesh Phogat, among others, were booked by the police for rioting, and obstructing public servant in discharge of duty”, as The Hindu reported. Hundreds of pictures surfaced online as wrestlers were forcibly dragged and detained by the police. As a direct consequence of this, wrestlers arrived at Haridwar to immerse their medals. The act, however, was halted as Anurag Thakur assured them that investigations against Brij Bhushan would be concluded, along with the pending WFI elections that would be concluded by the end of June.
What happened next?
On December 21, 2023, Sakshi Malik released a statement stating that she was quitting wrestling after Sanjay Singh, Brij Bhushan’s business partner and “a close aide” was selected as the new President of WFI. Sakshi Malik won a gold medal at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games. She has also won various silver and bronze medals for India. As she interacted with the media, she expressed her frustration with how women are not able to participate in elections as not even a single woman is ever given a position.
Following Malik’s resignation, on December 22, Bajrang Punia, who has won four medals at the World Wrestling Championships, announced that he was going to return his Padma Shri to the Prime Minister and that is his statement. His action is also in response to the newly elected president of WFI. Punia was not allowed to return his award to the PM in person, following which, he left his award on a footpath in Central Delhi.
Three days after the WFI elections were conducted, the government suspended the federation and asked the Indian Olympic Association to take charge of the everyday affairs of the federation.
On December 26, Vinesh Phogat, who won the gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, including several other medals that she has won, penned an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that she is returning her Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award which she was honored with in 2020, along with the Arjuna award that she was given in 2016. Distraught and frustrated, she stated in her letter that these awards hold “no meaning in my life now” and that “every woman wants to live life with respect”. In her letter, she asked the government if women athletes only exist to be featured in the “government’s advertisements” and why are they being called traitors as they raise their voices against a man who has been dominating the federation and continues to use “crude sloganeering”.
She also stated that the medals that they have won for the country, which hold the value of Rs. 15 at most, have been dearer to them than their lives as these medals made the whole country proud of them but now she feels disgusted by these awards, as “when I received these awards, my mother distributed sweets in our neighborhood. Now I want to get rid of that image of Vinesh receiving the award because that was a dream, while what is happening with us now is the reality”, as reported by The Indian Express.
What have Sanjay Singh and Brij Bhushan said?
Sanjay Singh reported that there are athletes who have started preparing and those who engage in politics and he would not comment on that. He also said that he has been in the federation for 12 years and that being close to Brij Bhushan does not make him a “dummy candidate”. He further asked if it was a crime that he was close to Bhushan.
Brij Bhushan Singh has not directly commented on the ongoings and has said that wrestling events Under-15 and Under-20 will be held from December 28 to December 31st and if not held within the stipulated time, one year of wrestlers will be affected.
These wrestlers, along with many others, have given their all as they diligently practice night and day to represent India in the world. However, given that their voices might be heard but deliberately being pushed into oblivion, makes one wonder if the horrors of autocracy are coming alive with each passing day. This might also be a moment when the aforementioned wrestlers are making a statement that even though their acts might not cause the desired action, it is an event in itself, a moment that must be remembered for generations to come. It can be through the act of remembering too, that one can participate in the way the history is being altered.
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