This may well be called a Black Day in the contemporary history of wrestling in India. One of India’s best-known wrestlers, Sakshi Malik, an Olympic and Asian Games medallist, bowed out of the sport in tears at a press conference after Sanjay Singh, an acolyte of the controversial Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, won the election to head the Wrestling Federation of India. Brij Bhushan, it may be recalled, has been accused of sexual harassment by a host of girls and women wrestlers. Led by Malik and other champions like Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, the wrestlers have been on a relentless protest since January this year, initially occupying space at Jantar Mantar, from where they were evicted in July, and then continuing their protest in various other ways to have him divested of all powers and clout at the WFI. He had to resign.
In their meetings with the union sports minister Anurag Thakur, the champions repeatedly asked that a woman be made the chief of WFI and that, under no circumstances, should the position go to a relative or acolyte of Brij Bhushan Singh. That he could get Sanjay Singh elected by 40-7 votes shows the political clout of the ousted WFI president who is also a BJP MP. It takes little to guess that he will continue to call the shots at the sports body through his man who now occupies the seat. In a sense, the brave wrestlers tussled with the might of politicians — and lost. Sexual harassment charges are not to be taken lightly even when made by one woman; in Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s case, multiple women including young girls levelled the allegations. The return of his man as WFI president shows the complete insensitivity of the Narendra Modi government to this issue and the hollowness of its claims about safeguarding women. Wrestling, especially among women, is poorer and continues to be beholden to politics.