In the world of wrestling, one moment reigns supreme—the moment when a wrestler stands tall on the podium. This cherished moment encapsulates the culmination of their hard work and dedication, as their name resounds through the air and they step forward to claim the medal they so fiercely fought for. The podium becomes the embodiment of a wrestler’s labor, bestowing upon them not only honor but also a symbol of their nation. It represents the pinnacle of every athlete’s career, attained through unyielding pain and unwavering discipline. When a wrestler marches toward that podium, the entire nation swells with pride, celebrating their achievement as the national anthem echoes in the background.
However, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh , the head of the Wrestling Federation of India, faces accusations of sexual harassment from the individuals involved, presenting a stark contrast to the triumphant podiums. Despite their fervent protests for over a month, they have made little progress in their battle against him. On May 28, backed by numerous social groups, these protestors had planned to march and hold a Mahila Panchayat (women’s council) at the doorstep of the newly constructed Parliament House—a symbolic “podium” representing the living document known as the Constitution, safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all citizens.
Tragically, the police orchestrated brutal violence as they met the wrestlers’ march toward Parliament. They subjected the wrestlers to drag, tackle, and mercilessly beat them. It marked the culmination of a malicious campaign that had targeted the protesting wrestlers through social media and WhatsApp groups, hurling insults based on their region, caste, and Akhara (traditional wrestling school) affiliations. The perplexing question arises: why were certain individuals exploiting these identities, which were once a source of immense national pride, to tarnish the dignity of these wrestlers?
As proud Indians who have reveled in the accomplishments of our wrestlers, we struggle to reconcile the fact that those responsible for bringing glory to our country subjected them to such a deplorable treatment.The headlines depicting the forceful dragging of the champions through the streets of Delhi are deeply unsettling. It is imperative that we, as a collective, confront these distressing truths and grapple with their implications on our conscience.
While the newly constructed Parliament building was being inaugurated, this shocking incident unfolded. The wrestlers, who had proudly showcased India’s talent on international platforms, had a straightforward aspiration: to make their voices heard within those hallowed walls. The new Parliament building symbolized the promises of a brighter future and a rejuvenated India. Yet, their voices and demands went unheard, let alone fulfilled.Regrettably, this chapter will etch itself into the annals of history, leaving an indelible mark, even if we, the citizens of this new nation, do not personally witness it.
Traditionally, panchayats (local councils) have been a male-dominated sphere, with women often barred from even witnessing their proceedings. Even in democratically-elected panchayats, women often find themselves represented by their husbands or closest male relatives, undermining their own agency and voice in decision-making processes. Therefore, the call for a Mahila Panchayat was historic in itself, holding the potential to shed light on the issues raised by the wrestlers and broader concerns of representation and gender. However, it tragically devolved into a missed opportunity.
Despite their international triumphs and esteemed status as national icons who brought glory to India, these wrestlers, unaccustomed to protesting, courageously took to the streets, only to face the same fate as countless citizens who have fought for their rights in the face of violence. Their experience mirrored the anguish, anxiety, and fury endured by other protestors, as their demands became obscured in the uncertainty of the situation, highlighting the repeated crackdowns by the state machinery.
Regrettably, the police detained the wrestlers on May 28, denying them access to the crucial platform that our Parliament is meant to be—the podium for the people, where their interests find representation through a democratically elected body. This action sends a powerful message to countless others who might aspire to follow in their footsteps, underscoring the barriers they could face in their pursuit of making their voices heard. As they heard Vinesh Phogat remark, “Aapko naya desh mubarak ho” (Congratulations on the new nation) while being led away, wrestling and the nation itself have lost their heroes in this new era.