Is the end in sight for the wrestlers’ agitation? The leading lights of the movement, Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, have resumed their duties in the Indian railways though they have asserted that their stir demanding action against Wrestling Federation of India chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Saran Singh for allegedly sexually harassing several members of their ranks will continue. Their move comes close on the heels of a meeting they had with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Does this mean the government has managed to break the back of the athletes in their quest for justice?
Images of the women wrestlers being pinned to the ground and dragged by police personnel on the same day that Prime Minister Narendra Modi bowed to male seers in saffron robes at the inauguration of the new Parliament building on 28 May proved to be bad optics for the BJP government at the Centre. The agitation by the women wrestlers was spiralling out of control much like the farmers agitation of 2020-21 which saw the government forced to withdraw the three farm laws passed by Parliament. With the Khap panchayats joining the wrestlers’ agitation and serving a June 9 ultimatum to act against Brij Bhushan Singh, the government was in a bind. Public perception is important for the BJP and at present it is quite critical of the authorities’ handling of the protest. Therefore the government’s silence and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) dragging its feet on the matter were beyond explanation. Delhi Police filed an FIR against Singh after several weeks and only when the Supreme Court intervened.
Any attempt to paint the wrestlers in a bad light will be met with public disdain as they have brought glory to the nation through their hard work and dedication. The police manhandling of the wrestlers horrified Indians. Images of an unfazed Brij Bhushan Singh taking selfies at the Parliament inauguration only enraged people more. Sensing an ideal opportunity to take on the government, Opposition parties have backed the agitating wrestlers to the hilt. Though the government finds itself at the receiving end of public opinion, what is inexplicable is its failure to act against the accused MP. Despite the fact that he has some clout in Uttar Pradesh and may affect the outcome of elections in a few seats in the state, is it worth the BJP’s while to antagonise its Jat vote bank as well as farmers? Is patriarchy so deep rooted in the Sangh Parivar that all the talk about women’s empowerment is only an eyewash?