‘Pressurised’ wrestlers to go ahead with ‘peaceful’ march to new Parliament

Alleging heavy pressure from the government to come to a settlement and end their protests, Vinesh Phogat broke down in tears while addressing the media in New Delhi on Saturday.

Vinesh said the mahila mahapanchayat scheduled to be held outside the new parliament building, which will be inaugurated on Sunday, will go ahead as planned despite the alleged high-handedness of Delhi Police who have been accused of stopping their supporters from entering New Delhi.

Vinesh, along with Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, has accused Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a BJP MP, of sexual harassment. Seven women wrestlers have filed a police complaint against him.

“We are still sitting here (at the protest) with a lot of difficulty. The government is putting pressure on us for a settlement. But we are not ready for a settlement at all, because the condition being put forward (by the government) is not Brij Bhushan’s arrest,” Vinesh said. “The mahapanchayat will happen, we will make sure. The government has deployed police in massive numbers to stop women coming from Punjab – we have the photos and the videos with us.”

She added: “The police have shut down New Delhi from all sides. We are appealing to everyone to arrive for the mahapanchayat tomorrow, and no matter how the police try to stop us, we have to make sure our march is totally peaceful.”

On Saturday, preparations for the mahapanchayat were in full flow as both Bajrang and Vinesh were hardly to be seen at Jantar Mantar, attending meetings and making sure the arrangement is adequate to deal with the numbers that are expected to show up.

Despite the detentions and sealing of Delhi’s borders, with plenty of supporters coming by train or bus, the wrestlers are expecting that more than 1000 supporters will arrive at Jantar Mantar, from where they will march towards the new parliament building.

The wrestlers said they will make temporary arrangements to rest for those who will travel to Delhi on Sunday while also trying to ensure they prepare enough food to feed as many people as they can at the protest site itself. Food is also sent to those supporters who are being stopped at the borders.

The wrestlers have been on the streets at Jantar Mantar for over a month, demanding the arrest of WFI president Brij Bhushan for alleged sexual harassment and exploitation.

Vinesh revealed on Saturday that negotiations between the government and the protesters have commenced to end the protest, but the Asian Games gold medallist also shed light on how difficult the process has been on them mentally.

“This is a very difficult situation for us,” Vinesh said, as she broke down sitting alongside Sakshi. “We don’t know what tomorrow will look like – whether we’ll be dead or alive. Well-wishers and supporters are being detained and pressurised as if we are the criminals, and Brij Bhushan is a saint against whom the women wrestlers have filed a case.”

Adamant that they will not move from the protest site until Brij Bhushan, also a BJP MP from Kaiserganj district of Uttar Pradesh, is arrested, Vinesh said: “Until we are alive, we’ll keep fighting, keep standing for justice. We will not bend.”

Meanwhile, the Delhi Police on Saturday informed a magistrate court in the capital that it has taken the statements of all the complaining women wrestlers under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) after the court directed them to file a status report.

After hearings in the Supreme Court, the Delhi Police has filed two FIRs against the WFI chief, one of which pertained to allegations made by a minor wrestler under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

The court also directed the police to hand copies of the status report to the complainants and listed the matter for further hearing on June 27.

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