Justice for ‘India’s daughters’ more important than Asian Games medal: Bajrang Punia

Bajrang Punia said on Monday that the ongoing protest in New Delhi, demanding the removal and arrest of the Wrestling Federation of India president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh who is alleged to have sexually exploited and harassed women wrestlers, is more important than the upcoming Asian Games.

“We want to play, it’s not as if we don’t want to go to the Asian Games,” he told a press conference. “But I believe that gaining justice for the daughters of this country is far more important than an Asian medal.”

The ongoing protest falls at a time in which the wrestlers would be in the middle of preparations for the Asian Games, which will be held in Hangzhou, China in September this year. Two of India’s three Asian Games medallists from wrestling – both Bajrang and Vinesh Phogat won gold in 2018 – are currently camped out at Jantar Mantar in the Indian capital alongside 2016 Olympics medallist Sakshi Malik and other wrestlers. With WFI currently suspended, it remains unclear who will represent Indian wrestling at the Asiad.

Bajrang further said that he was unhappy with the media’s coverage of the protests, claiming the coverage has been partisan in favour of Brijbhushan, who is “trying to give this protest a different angle”.

Wrestlers protest bajrang punia on brijbhushan New Delhi: Wrestlers Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik during their protest at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi, Saturday, April 29, 2023. (PTI Photo/Ravi Choudhary)(PTI04_29_2023_000151A)

“Look at his criminal record, there’s no questions over that. When we get medals for the country, questions are asked over that,” he said.

Keeping control

Bajrang accused Brijbhushan of trying to keep control over the federation through his family. His son, Karan Bhushan Sharan Singh, has been the senior vice-president of the Uttar Pradesh Wrestling Association since 2019, and also vice president and member of the executive committee of WFI.

“Few people are trying to take this protest in another direction, making it political. He (Brijbhushan) has been talking about how we are sitting here and fighting this fight because we want to take control of the federation,” Bajrang said. “If you want to become the president of the federation, or want any post in it, you need to have a post in a state wrestling federation. He has been saying that he will not fight another election or come back, but he has completed 12 years so he anyway can’t. But his family have been controlling wrestling in UP and Bihar. He has accused us of ‘pariwaarvad’ but it is actually him engaging in it.”

Since the start of the protests, there have been attempts from camps opposing the wrestlers to pit the issue as between the states of UP (Brijbhushan’s home state from where he is an MP) and Haryana (home to most of the wrestlers). Addressing questions regarding the same, Vinesh said: “You can see so many athletes on Twitter who have sent messages and openly supported us. Not all of them are from Haryana or from the sport of wrestling, whether it’s Abhinav Bindra or Nikhat Zareen or Sania Mirza.”

The wrestler added that she will not be revealing any details of the ongoing investigation by the Delhi Police, who confirmed to the Supreme Court that they will file an FIR against the BJP MP, out of concern for the complaining women’s safety. “This is a sensitive matter, and these girls’ safety is important. We can’t risk any information getting leaked,” she said.

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