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Business News/ News / India/  Wrestlers protest: 'Won't leave Jantar Mantar until 'Brij Bhushan' gets arrested,' says Vinesh Phogat

Wrestlers protest: 'Won't leave Jantar Mantar until 'Brij Bhushan' gets arrested,' says Vinesh Phogat

Wrestlers protest: Vinesh Phogat speaks about her wrestling career, family's support, and politics in sports

Wrestler Vinesh Phogat during the wrestlers' protest against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. (PTI)Premium
Wrestler Vinesh Phogat during the wrestlers' protest against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. (PTI)

Ahead of the Asian Games 2023, Indian wrestlers are living on the dusty pavement under the scorching sun in Delhi, demanding the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The wrestlers are unable to focus on their training sessions as their demand has remained unmet since January 2023. A two-time medal winner at the World Championships, Vinesh Phogat on Tuesday shared an opinion piece on The Indian Express about the struggles of wrestlers and slammed the Centre for turning a blind eye to the issue. The Indian wrestlers are demanding action against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused by a section of grapplers of sexual harassment.

Phogat wrote in the daily, "The Asian Games is around the corner and the qualifying cycle for the Olympics is beginning and though we have to represent India and win medals, at the moment this is a bigger battle. Because if we wind up our protest without getting justice, then women who face sexual harassment will stay silent and suffer".

Phogat and other wrestlers publicly spoke about the 'Me Too' controversy in wrestling games in January this year. She said, "When we decided to speak up in January about the sexual harassment women wrestlers faced and the mismanagement in the federation, we believed our voices would matter. And for a short time, we believed it did. An Oversight Committee was set up by the Sports Ministry to probe the allegations but we know now that it was an eyewash".

She said, "Like many other girls, I had to suffer silently all these years because of this man and I had no option".

Phogat, in The Indian Express' column, lambasted at Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur. She asserted that Thakur has disrespected the wrestlers. "His attitude is like -I am the sports minister, you have to listen to what I say. When victims of sexual harassment told their stories to him, he looked them in the eye and asked for proof. And so did members of the Oversight Committee," Phogat said.

Phogat and her husband Somvir have courageously said that they would continue their protest even if others drop out. "In December 2022, I said enough is enough. I spoke to my husband Somvir and then to Bajrang. We felt it was time to speak up. Though there are seven complainants, there are many other victims of sexual harassment who are still afraid to come forward. Now there is no fear".

However, Phogat is apprehensive that the protest will ruin her sports career. She said, "The only fear we have is that we may have to quit wrestling. We believe we have five years more in the sport but who knows what the future holds for us after these protests. We also know our lives could be at risk because we have taken on not only Brij Bhushan but other powerful forces, too, but I don’t fear death".

In support of the protest, Phogat staunchly stated, "What is the point of the medals around your neck if you can’t fight for justice? We are fighting against the system so the next generation of women can wrestle and play and compete in a safe environment".

Phogat stressed that she would not leave Jantar Mantar until Brij Bhushan gets arrested.

"We won’t be leaving Jantar Mantar until he is arrested. The past few months have been stressful and I have shed tears. But I know this could be a long and testing battle to get justice for women and I am ready to make any sacrifice".

Wrestlers, including Sakshi Malika, Bajrang Punia are planning to protest outside the new Parliament on its inauguration day on 28 May.

A two-time Olympian, Phogat, has two Commonwealth Games golds, one Asian Games gold medal, was crowned Asian champion in 2021 in addition to a World Championships bronze in 2019.

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Updated: 23 May 2023, 09:25 AM IST
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