Delhi Police have filed charges of rioting against some of India’s top female and male wrestlers who were taking part in a protest demanding “convincing legal action” against a former top Indian wrestling official accused of sexually harassing several female Indian wrestlers.
The police disrupted the wrestlers’ protest Sunday while they were marching towards India’s new parliament building that was being inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi.
The wrestlers, including Olympic and other international tournament medalists, have been staging a sit-in protest since April 23 at Delhi’s popular protest site Jantar Mantar, demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a former president of the Wrestling Federation of India, whom they accuse of raping several female wrestlers, including a minor.
Singh, a member of parliament from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and a party strongman, has been questioned by the police but not arrested. He insists that the allegations against him are false, calling them “a conspiracy” to remove him from parliament.
Sunday, around the time of the inauguration of the parliament building, the wrestlers began a march from the Jantar Mantar protest site towards the building, aiming to highlight their demand to arrest Singh.
As the police tried to stop the march, a scuffle broke out between the protesters and the police. Later the police managed to stop the march before it could reach the parliament building and ace wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, along with others, were arrested.
The police detained the wrestlers charging that they violated law and order and threatened to “harm the national prestige”, by organizing the march when the new Parliament building was being inaugurated.
“More force came there and with great difficulty (we) managed to overpower and detain them. While trying to stop them, (the) protesters manhandled and assaulted police," a FIR (First Information Report) said. A FIR is a report that the police write on receipt of information of an alleged incident or crime.
On Sunday evening, the police filed cases against the wrestlers, including Phogat, Punia and Malik, and other participants of the protest after accusing them of “rioting”, assembling unlawfully and obstructing public servants on duty.
Dependra Pathak, a special commissioner of police in Delhi, said that the protesters “broke the law.”
However, Olympic medalist Malik insisted that in the “peaceful march” they were walking “quietly” while the police “pounced on them, dragged them forcibly” before detaining them.
Reacting to the police FIR, Phogat, first Indian woman wrestler to win gold at both the Commonwealth and Asian Games, said the authorities are writing “a new history.”
“The Delhi Police takes seven days to file an FIR against sex offender Brij Bhushan. But they did not take even seven hours to slap an FIR against us while we were in a peaceful rally. Has a dictatorship taken control of the country? The whole world is watching how the government is treating its sportspersons. A new history is being written,” Phogat said in a Hindi tweet.
Attaching a video clip of the female wrestlers being dragged to police station, Malik tweeted, “This is how our champions are being treated. The world is watching us.”
Visuals of the protesters, including top athletes, being dragged and bundled into police vans went viral on social media, sparking condemnation and criticism from top sports personalities, opposition politicians and social activists.
Reacting to top female wrestlers being dragged by the police on the road, Indian Olympic gold medalist javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra tweeted: “I feel very sad to see this. There has to be a better way to deal with this.”
In a tweet, Indian national champion long jumper Murali Sreeshankar said: “Absolutely barbaric!! Our champions didn’t deserve this. As an athlete who dreams and works towards the Olympic glory, this picture would leave a very deep wound.”
Recently, the police have filed two cases against parliamentarian Singh, including one under the Indian Act of POCSO (Prevention of Child from Sexual Offences), one of the alleged victims being a minor.
However, the wrestlers insist that they are “not happy” with the police action and say they will not end their protest until Singh is arrested.
“We are continuing our protest. We will not take rest until he is arrested or jailed,” Malik said.