In the company of hundreds of vocal supporters, top wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, and Bajrang Punia marked the day their protests against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh completed one month by taking out a candle march to India Gate in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Under extremely heavy police scrutiny and massive deployment of security personnel, the wrestlers marched to India Gate with their supporters raising slogans and flying Indian flags in the air, demanding the arrest of Brijbhushan, who is also a BJP MP from Kaiserganj district in Uttar Pradesh, due to alleged sexual harassment and exploitation of women wrestlers. The intense summer heat in the capital and a mild dust storm in the evening did not dampen the spirits.
The wrestlers, happy with the turnout and the peaceful nature of the protest, will be looking to replicate Tuesday’s atmosphere for the next major demonstrations they will be holding, including a ‘mahila mahapanchayat’ of women advising and supporting them scheduled to be held at the inauguration of the new parliament building on May 28.
“We are happy and proud that we were able to take out this procession in a fully peaceful manner, marching from Jantar Mantar to India Gate with so many supporters without any problem. The fight for the integrity and respect of women will continue on May 28 as well,” Bajrang Punia said.
Later, Vinesh Phogat told media at Jantar Mantar that the wrestlers were buoyed by the support. “There was so much support, and we are also getting news that there were candle marches in other parts of the country. There are farm unions, women’s organisations, students from all over India. They are all giving us the strength to keep fighting,” she said.
“It is shameful that sportspersons like us have been sitting here, in protest, for one month and there has been such a lack of action, no arrest. But days like today make us hopeful that we can get justice soon.”
After Sakshi Malik joined the candlelight vigil held by students and teachers at Jawaharlal Nehru Univerity (JNU) in solidarity with the wrestlers on Monday, the wrestlers made it clear that support from students and the youth of the country—who will also be playing a role in leading the ‘mahila mahapanchayat’ on Sunday—is important to them, and that they want to see them take a more active part in the agitation.
“It’s simple, we want this movement to reach more people,” Bajrang said. “Sitting here at Jantar Mantar will not be enough, and we don’t think the media is successfully relaying our message. We want our voices to reach the maximum number of people, and we want to reach the country’s youth, because this movement is not limited to wrestlers, it’s a fight for all women in India.”
The wrestlers said they will be coordinating with the various khap and farm leaders that are advising them, and will be taking into account the decisions and discussions of the mahapanchayat on Sunday before deciding their next course of action.
Meanwhile, the wrestlers have moved a magistrate court in New Delhi’s Rouse Avenue for a court-monitored probe in the legal case against Brijbhushan, fearing the Delhi Police’s investigation will not be free of bias given the BJP MP’s political background.
The Delhi Police has already filed a status report under sealed cover in the magistrate court, claiming a Special Investigative Team (SIT) has been formed to probe the allegations. The next hearing is on May 27.