The renewed protest by top Indian wrestlers at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, demanding action against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Singh on a sexual assault complaint, has completed a month now. While the Delhi Police has registered two FIRs following the intervention of the Supreme Court, there has been no significant progress in the case, according to Olympic medal winners Bajrang Punia, Sakshee Malikkh, and Asian Games medallist Vinesh Phogat.
The wrestlers started the protest after Vinesh got messages from fellow female players on sexual harassment complaints before the national camp scheduled in Lucknow in January. The earlier strike concluded when the Union government formed a high-level committee to probe the players' complaints. The second phase of the strike started in late April.
In an intercation with Malayala Manorama, Vinesh spoke about their continuing protest, their training amid the chaos, their expectations from the Union government, and more.
Q/ You and other protesting wrestlers have faced several hardships in the past month...
A/ It is very hot in Delhi now. The temperature has soared to 46 degrees. Our health often deteriorates. There is no time for training. The entire time has to be devoted to negotiations and to meet people. But I am happy with the support of the people. This is a battle. I think it will be successful. Enduring these hardships is necessary to uncover the truth.
Q/ Do you believe in the report of the high-level committee?
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A/ The report is yet to be released. It is believed that many irregularities may have taken place while submitting the report. Why are they reluctant to release the report? Because they have something to hide.
Q/ Do you have faith in the Union government?
A/ Our expectations from the government are low now. We have been on strike for four months and are enduring a lot. However, the government is not taking any action. The government seems to have more faith in Brij Bhushan Saran than the athletes. The lives of many children and young people are in danger. Delhi Police is also protecting the accused. It is said that there is pressure on them. But they do not say whose pressure. A couple of people from the government had come for discussions. But they also do not believe what we say.
Q/ There are tournaments, including the Asian Games, coming up. But you are unable to train because of the protest. What about your career?
A/ The struggle may last for a year or two. But, after that, we will be back on the mat. The struggle will end the day Brij Bhushan is arrested. The Asian Games trials are scheduled for next month. If the strike ends before that, I will definitely participate.
Q/ What will be the future of this agitation?
A/ The uncertainty remains. We are not sure what will happen in the coming days. But one thing is certain, our struggle will continue until arrests are made.
Q/ Will such problems stop the new generation from joining the sport?
A/ Many parents and children share this fear. The question they ask is, if this is the case with big stars like us, what will happen to them? That is why we are seeking the arrest. It is necessary for removing the fear.
Q/ Are you saying the lie-detector test should be done live?
Brij Bhushan has asked me and Bajrang Punia to undergo a lie-detector test. We are ready to subject the seven people who filed the complaint to the test. Let it be broadcast live. Let the world see. Let the truth come out.
The article originally appeared in the Malayala Manorama daily dated May 23, 2023.