Sun, 01 Oct 2023

By Payal MehtaNew Delhi [India], May 31 (ANI): The protesting ace grapplers on Tuesday decided to push back their plan of immersing their medals in the Ganga as a mark of protest against WFI chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh after farmer leader Naresh Tikait intervened and secured a five-day ultimatum from them.

The wrestlers are pressing for the removal and arrest of the WFI chief over allegations of sexual harassment.

The farmer leader took the medals from the wrestlers and sought five days to meet their demand.

Olympians Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat reached Haridwar on Tuesday to immerse their all medals, including those won in the quadrennial event, in the Ganges.

The wrestlers shared a post on Twitter regarding the chain of events that have unfolded in recent days and the way authorities handled the situation.

The protesting wrestlers said in the post they will visit Haridwar and throw their medals in the Ganga at 6 pm on Tuesday.

They also vowed to sit on a hunger strike at India Gate after consigning their medals to the waters.

In their post, the wrestlers said, "You saw everything that happened on May 28, how police treated us and the way they arrested us. We were protesting peacefully, our place has been taken away and the next day serious cases and FIR were filed against us. Have the wrestlers committed any crime by demanding justice for the sexual harassment that happened to them? The police and the system are treating us like criminals, while the oppressor is taking jibe moving freely. He is even openly talking about changing the POSCO Act.""Yesterday, many of our women wrestlers were hiding in the fields. The system should arrest the oppressor but it is engaged in breaking and intimidating the victim women to end their protest," the grapplers said adding that these medals are left with no meaning.

"It is not less than death for us thinking of returning medals but how can we live compromising our self-respect? We don't need these medals anymore. If we speak against exploitation, they prepare to put us in jail," the wrestlers said.

"We are going to shed these medals in the Ganga. Our medals which we earned after hard work are as sacred as River Ganga. These medals are sacred for the entire country and the right place to keep the sacred medal can be the holy Ganga and not our unholy system which masquerades us and stands with our oppressor after taking advantage of us. The medal is our life, our soul. We will sit on hunger strike at India gate till death," the wrestlers added.

The following is a timeline of the wrestlers' protest that began in January and has since become a major headache for the central government;January 18: Star Indian wrestlers, including Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik, sit on a protest near the iconic Jantar Mantar in the national capital against the WFI and its chief. The wrestlers accuse the WFI president and unnamed coaches of sexually abusing women athletes and also issuing death threats.

However, Brij Bhushan denies all the allegations.

Meanwhile, responding to the allegations levelled by the wrestlers, the Sports Ministry seeks an explanation from the WFI and directed it to furnish its reply within 72 hours.

January 19: The wrestlers meet officials of the Sports Ministry and are given assurances. However, they are not satisfied with these assurances.

Sakshi Malik says, "They only assured us of action but we did not get any satisfactory response from their side. We are not happy. We want to shut down WFI and all of its state associations. We want a fresh start."The wrestlers also ask to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. However, Sports Minister Anurag Singh Thakur convinces them to have a dialogue with him first.

The Sports minister holds talks with the grapplers in a late-night meeting spanning four hours. Thakur drove down to Himachal Pradesh to meet the wrestlers. During the deliberations, the wrestlers seek the formation of a neutral committee to investigate the charges against the WFI chief.

January 20: The Sports minister waits at his residence for an entire day to meet the wrestlers. However, they refuse to come for further talks. They finally appear at a press conference with the Sports minister, saying that they are happy with the outcome of the meeting and will cooperate with the oversight committee during its probe and also present evidence to support their allegations against the WFI chief.

The wrestlers demand that Brij Bhushan Saran be removed immediately as WFI president. The Sports minister assures them that Singh would step aside from the day-to-day functioning of the WFI pending investigation.

January 21: The wrestlers call off their protests after receiving assurances from the Sports Ministry that their grievances would be addressed and an Oversight Committee would be formed to probe the wrestlers' allegations against the WFI chief.

January 23: The Oversight Committee is formed with Olympian Mary Kom as the chairperson and Yogeshwar Dutt, Trupti Murgunde, Commander Rajesh Rajagopalan and Radhica Sreeman (Both veteran sports administrators) as members. However, the wrestlers are not happy with the inclusion of grappler Yogeshwar Dutt and want one member from their side. Babita Phogat is drafted into the panel on the request of wrestlers.

January 24: The wrestlers say they were assured they would be consulted before the five-member panel was formed.

January 27: Despite being part of the Target Olympic Podium Scheme of the Government and given a monthly Out of Pocket allowance of Rs 50,000 (which they are still drawing), Bajrang and Vinesh withdraw from the Zagreb Open [which started on February 1], the first Ranking Series of the year, saying they are not ready for the competition.

February 9: The oversight committee hears the women wrestlers' complaints. The wrestlers later request a second hearing which was conducted on February 20 by the Oversight Committee.

February 20: Even as the probe by the Oversight Committee was underway, Bajrang, Vinesh, Ravi and Sakshi choose to skip the year's second Ranking Series event -- the Ibrahim-Moustafa tournament -- from February 23 to 26.

This was the second event they opted out of in as many months.

February 23: The oversight committee summons Brij Bhushan Saran and other witnesses named by the wrestlers in their deposition.

February 24: The committee continues questioning the witnesses.

February 23: The Sports Ministry grants the Oversight Committee a two-week extension to probe the charges against the WFI chief and file a report. Meanwhile, UWW, the global body of wrestling, takes away India's hosting rights of the 2023 Asian Wrestling Championships, amid the controversy around the WFI, denying the country a chance to host a global wrestling event. The event, which was to be held in New Delhi from March 28 to April 2, was eventually moved to Astana in Kazakhstan.

March 21: The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Target Olympic Podium Scheme approve Bajrang and Vinesh's request for an International training camp. Bajrang is cleared to train in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan for 16 days, while Vinesh gets the go-ahead to train at the Olympic Preparation Center in Spala, Poland for 11 days. However, even after all formalities were completed for the two trips, Vinesh and Bajrang refuse to go for the training.

April 8: Talking to ESPN, a global sports broadcaster, Vinesh said she chose to skip the foreign tour as she felt it was important for her to be around to track any developments with regard to the probe into the complaints against the WFI president.

April 9: The Asian Wrestling Championships begin in Astana, Kazakhstan without Bajrang, Ravi or Vinesh leading the Indian challenge. The trio did not qualify for the event after skipping the trials.

April 23: Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, his wife Sangeeta Phogat, and Sakshi Malik return to Jantar Mantar to continue their protest against the WFI and Brij Bhushan. The wrestlers accuse Brij Bhushan of sexually harassing seven women wrestlers, including a minor, saying they submitted a complaint at New Delhi's Connaught Place police station two days ago but the police were yet to file an FIR.

This time, however, they were not joined by any other wrestlers in the protest.

Addressing a press conference, Sakshi said, "We lodged a complaint at CP police station. It has been two days, but no FIR has been registered as yet. Seven women, including a minor, have complained of sexual harassment. It makes for a POSCO case, but nothing has been done yet."A person can be arrested in a POSCO case only if the complaint is lodged within 24 hours. However, in this case, it was lodged after a few years.

April 24: The Sports Ministry, in a letter to Indian Olympic Association (IOA) chief PT Usha, says the WFI affairs will be handled by an ad-hoc committee appointed by the IOA. The letter states that elections that were scheduled for May 7 were declared void and that the Oversight Committee, which had submitted its report, will now cease to exist.

Usha also said the IOA would hold an Executive Council meeting on April 27 to discuss the future course of action.

April 25: The Supreme Court agrees to hear a petition filed by wrestlers seeking registration of an FIR against Brij Bhushan over allegations of sexual harassment by women wrestlers.

A bench headed by the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud says that the allegations raised by the wrestlers are serious and require the court's consideration. It directs that the case be listed on April 28 after notice is sent to relevant authorities.

The case is mentioned by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who says no FIR has been lodged despite the sexual harassment allegations. He adds that the victims, whose names had been redacted from the judicial records, included a minor.

April 26: The protesting wrestlers step up their protest citing inaction by the authorities over their complaints, urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Minister for Women and Child Development to intervene in the matter.

April 27: The IOA forms a three-member ad-hoc committee to handle the day-to-day affairs of the WFI and conduct its elections within the next 45 days. The committee members are Suma Shirur, Bhupendra Singh Bajwa and a retired High Court judge, who will be named in the coming days. PT Usha also condemns the wrestler's protests.

April 29 - May 1: Political leaders, including AAP Leader Arvind Kejriwal, and Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi, head to Jantar Mantar to support wrestlers, turning it into a political programme.

May 4: The Supreme Court disposes of a plea filed by women wrestlers against Brij Bhushan, asking them to approach a lower court.

"We have no faith in the Supreme Court. We will invite Khap Panchayats to join us," say the protesting grapplers.

May 7: Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait joins the wrestlers at Jantar Mantar.

May 23: Wrestlers hold a candlelight march. Khap leaders join the protest.

May 28: Wrestlers plan to march and protest in front of the new Parliament, despite the imposition of Section 144 in the area. Delhi Police cracks down on the marching wrestlers, detaining them.

May 30: Wrestlers arrive in Haridwar to immerse their medals in the Ganga. However, they later issue a five-day ultimatum to the Centre to act against the WFI chief following the intervention of farmer leader Naresh Tikait.

Initially, in January, the wrestlers said they wanted a neutral investigation following which an oversight Committee was formed to probe the charges against the WFI chief. Brij Bhushan Saran was also called for a hearing.

Later in April, the wrestlers demanded that an FIR be lodged against Brij Bhushan saying that they won't leave Jantar Mantar till a complaint is filed. They also added that they don't trust the Delhi Police and only have faith in the Supreme Court.

Thereafter, two FIRs were filed by Delhi Police against the WFI chief.

After the registration of the FIRs, the wrestlers came up with a fresh demand saying that they want Brij Bhushan arrested (without an investigation) and removed from every post that he holds (including that of an MP).

They added that they want him to be punished for all cases pending against him, and only then they will leave.

Vinesh Phogat said, "We thought since we are Olympic medalists, we will be heard if we say something against Brij Bhushan, and not him."Again, the wrestlers had initially said in January that theirs was an apolitical protest and they were not seeking the intervention of any political leader or party.

However, in April, they said they made a mistake and wanted all parties to support them in their protest against the WFI chief.

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, CPM leader Brinda Karat, former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Congress leaders Navjot Singh Sindhu, Kumari Sailja, and AAP's Saurabh Bhardwaj visited the grapplers and voiced support to their movement. (ANI)

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