One of the most enduring images on Sunday was not that of the Temple of Democracy being inaugurated by the Prime Minister but that of a wrestler being pinned to the ground by police personnel as the group tried to march towards the new parliament to stage their #MeToo protest. Even more distressing was the footage of a Tricolour lying coiled up on the road, where it could have been trampled upon by the khaki jackboots.
The same Tricolour had been hoisted on foreign soil by these very wrestlers when they brought home their laurels. The two grapplers who were pushed to the ground were identified as Vinesh Phogat and her cousin Sangeeta; as Vinesh tried to ward off the policewomen, Sangeeta clung on to her cousin while lying on the road; all this continued for a few dramatic minutes.
Neeraj Chopra pained to see this
Less than two kilometres away from the newly inaugurated Parliament, top wrestlers, including Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, were jostled, shoved and hustled into buses as they tried to breach the barricades. "I am pained to see this. There has to be a better way to deal with this," the reigning Olympic champion in javelin throw, Neeraj Chopra, wrote in a response to a video Sakshi posted on Twitter.
The athletes, who have been camping at Jantar Mantar for the last month, had planned to host a 'Mahila Samman Mahapanchayat' outside the newly inaugurated Parliament as part of their ongoing protest against the Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Singh, a member of the ruling BJP, has been accused by the wrestlers of sexually harassing several female athletes.
Democracy Pinned Down
These allegations have stirred a nationwide controversy, leading to widespread protests demanding his arrest. The police, however, maintained that no protester would be allowed to move towards the new Parliament building as permission had not been granted to hold the “Mahila Mahapanchayat". Videos showed a scuffle breaking out between protesters and police personnel even as the former tried to resist. In one of the videos, a few female police officers can be seen forcefully dragging a woman away from the protest site. The caption of the video reads "This is how our champions are being treated. The world is watching us!"
‘‘Our Prime Minister was busy posing for photos when we girls were getting thrashed on the road in Delhi," a grappler said. The police have reportedly dismantled their makeshift tents, mats and coolers at Jantar. Scores of farmers led by BKU leader Rakesh Tikait were, meanwhile, stopped by the Delhi Police at the Ghazipur border as they tried to enter the national capital to take part in the protest called by agitating wrestlers outside the new Parliament building.
Detained for violation of law and order
‘‘Did the Union Home Ministry grant police permission to manhandle the protestors? The Central government must provide unequivocal answers," tweeted NCP leader Supriya Sule, who said she was deeply dismayed by the deplorable treatment of Olympic medallists and sportswomen.
Top wrestlers, including the likes of Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, were detained for violation of law and order after they breached the security cordon while trying to move towards the new Parliament building for a planned women's 'Mahapanchayat'.
Chaotic scenes were witnessed at the protest site at Jantar Mantar as wrestlers and police officers shoved and pushed each other when Vinesh Phogat, her cousin sister Sangeeta Phogat and Sakshi Malik tried to breach the barricades.
Democracy lies in tolerance
"Strongly condemn the way Delhi Police manhandled Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and other wrestlers. It's shameful our champions are treated in this manner," West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted. "Democracy lies in tolerance but autocratic forces thrive on intolerance and quelling of dissent. I demand they be immediately released by police. I stand by our wrestlers."
Communist Party of India (Marxist) termed the police action as "shame on this Govt." "Delhi Police have detailed women wrestlers! Medal winning wrestlers bundled into buses and detained for fighting sexual harassment while man accused will be sitting in new parliament building. Shame!" The police officials dragged and lifted them into buses along with several other wrestlers and their supporters. The wrestlers were pushed into buses and taken to different unknown locations.
The champion wrestlers had resumed their agitation against former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on April 23, demanding his arrest for alleged sexual harassment of several women grapplers, including a minor. The police had warned the wrestlers not to move towards Parliament but they went ahead, leading to the scuffle.
TMC MLA and former India cricketer Manoj Tiwary said: "So, this is what you call #AzadiKaAmritMahotsav? Shame! The nation is with you #wrestlers!"