Priyanka, Kejriwal back protesting wrestlers

Update: 2023-04-29 05:03 GMT
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi with wrestlers Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Sangita Phogat during their protest at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi (PTI Photo/Ravi Choudhary)

New Delhi: The wrestler’s protest intensified on Saturday as Olympic medalist Bajrang Punia took to Instagram, alleging that electricity was cut off at the protest site. Accusing the Delhi police of suspending food and water supplies at Jantar Mantar, he added that barricades have also been put up. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal expressed solidarity with the grapplers by meeting them at the protest site. The WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh said he is ready for a probe but won’t resign.

The Delhi police, meanwhile, said that they will provide security to wrestlers alleging sexual exploitation by the WFI chief. The police further said one copy of the FIR has been given to the wrestlers, however the copy of the FIR registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act has not been given to the wrestlers, as it will be given only to the victim’s family.

In another twist, the protesting wrestlers claimed that a few people have entered their movement with a motive to lead it in a different direction but did not clarify who they were. Mr Punia said the wrestlers won’t let anyone use their platform for political gains. “A few people are trying to take our movement in a different direction and we strongly refute it. This is a fight for justice for India’s daughters,” he said, though he was silent when asked who he was referring to.

On Friday, a group of people were heard shouting slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Slogans like ‘Modi teri kabr khudegi’ (Modi, your grave will be dug here) were raised.

“Politics and other things are secondary, the dignity and honour of women are first, so please don’t indulge in politics. This is players’ movement, so do not link to any political party,” he said, adding that they were being harassed by the Delhi police.

“Last night, they cut our power supply and did not let us bring food, water or even mattresses and takhtas (wooden cots). One of the workers who brought these things to the protest site has not reached home. The police is not treating the athletes well. “Is this the honour of the country’s athletes? What’s the point of winning those medals if we have to face all these?” he said.

The Delhi police, on their part, said that we will be providing security to the wrestlers and will soon record the statements of the victims. The wrestlers, led by Vinesh Phogat, reached the Connaught Place police station, where one FIR was provided to them.

Reacting to all the allegations, the WFI chief said he is ready for “any kind of investigation” but won’t resign from his post as it will mean he has accepted the charges against him. “I am completely innocent and have full faith in the Supreme Court and the Delhi police. I am ready to face any kind of investigation,” Mr Singh told the media.  

“Resigning as president of the Wrestling Federation of India is not a big deal for me, but I will not resign as a criminal.” Taking a strong exception to Ms Vadra’s meeting with the wrestlers, he said, “Today it has been seen who is behind this controversy. I have been saying from the beginning that an industrialist and the Congress have a hand in this. They are upset with me.”

Expressing solidarity with the protesting wrestlers after meeting them at Jantar Mantar, Ms Vadra accused the government of protecting Mr Singh.

Speaking with reporters, she demanded that a copy of the FIRs be shared with the wrestlers. She said: “When these girls get medals, everyone tweets and says they are our country’s pride, but now that they are sitting on the road and seeking to be heard, no one is ready to listen to them. If FIRs have been filed, their copy should be shared with them.”

Ms Vadra further added: “See, there are serious allegations against this person. He should first resign and be removed from the post. Till he is in that post, he will continue to exert pressure and keep destroying people’s careers. If that person is there on a post through which he can destroy the careers of wrestlers and exert pressure, then what is the meaning of FIRs and investigations?”

Attacking the Prime Minister, the Congress leader said that she does not have any expectations from the Prime Minister, because if he had been concerned about these wrestlers, then he would have at least called them and spoken with them.

The Congress has demanded that Singh be arrested immediately following an FIR against him and that he be removed from all posts to help ensure a fair investigation. Congress MP Deependra Hooda said that their demand is that he be arrested immediately and removed from all posts at the WFI.

Lending support to the protesting wrestlers, Mr Kejriwal said every Indian who loves the country should stand with them in their struggle. He said those who commit such wrongs against women “should be hanged”.

“All these women players who have brought laurels to the country are our daughters, they must get justice. No matter how powerful the accused is, he should be given the harshest punishment,” he later said in a tweet in Hindi.

In his address from the protest site, Mr Kejriwal also asked people from all over the country to take leave and come to Jantar Mantar to support the wrestlers.

The AAP supremo claimed that electricity and water supplies to the protest venue had been disconnected and supplies like food and mattresses were not allowed in and promised to help them.

Mr Kejriwal said the protesting wrestlers, including award-winning sportspersons, brought laurels to the country and yet had to protest and approach the Supreme Court for action against Mr Singh. Without taking any names, Mr Kejriwal said no harm ever comes to any leader of “one party”, even if they do something wrong and that is what happened here.


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