A common refrain in the protests was that if such prominent sportspersons were not getting justice, what was to become of the masses?
Protests in support of national-level wrestlers, who have been agitating against Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, have spread to South India.
Kochi in Kerala and Telangana capital Hyderabad saw two such protests on Sunday, 21 May.
Protesters there put their weight behind senior Indian wrestlers — including Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat — who have been agitating at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi since January demanding the ouster of Singh, who also happens to be a BJP MP.
On Sunday, members of student, youth, and women organisations along with numerous residents of Kochi held a meeting in solidarity with the wrestlers.
The participants sought the resignation of Singh and appealed to the Union government to act on the matter.
The event was co-hosted by the Kerala wing of the All India Democratic Students Organisation (AIDSO), the All India Democratic Youth Organisation (AIDYO), and the All India Mahila Sanskritik Sanghadan (AIMMS).
Cultural activities including Karate performances, painting and street play were also held in connection with the solidarity event.
Aleena S, the Kerala state president of the AIDSO, who was one of the organisers of the event, told South First she believed that the protest by the wrestlers was for a genuine cause.
“It is the primary responsibility of any government to arrest an accused who is facing several allegations of sexual assault — even charges under the POCSO Act — but that hasn’t been done yet. He continues to be a Member of Parliament and the WFI president,” she said.
Aleena noted that those protesting against Singh were not ordinary people but internationally acclaimed athletes.
“When even such prominent personalities in our society are denied justice and have to take to the streets seeking justice, one can only imagine what the situation is for the common man,” she said.
According to the student leader, the issue exposed the law-and-order situation in the country and concerned the safety and security of all women and children in India.
“The movement represents not just this issue but numerous others faced by the women in our country. We talk about issues that happened in Hathras, Unnao, or even Walayar, but in none of these cases the culprits are getting punished and more over the victims are facing further witch hunt from the people in power,” said Aleena.
According to Aleena, numerous men and women from all walks of life joined the event held to show solidarity with the athletes.
“There is a genuine urge by people in Kerala to stand against these kinds of injustices although their avenues to voice their opinions in public are limited,” she said.
Aleena alleged that the Union government was shielding the accused in the case. She firmly believes that many movements were needed within society to counter the government’s silence.
“This is the reason why we organised the solidarity event,” she added.
According to Nibin Babu, a research scholar on physical education at the Mahatma Gandhi University who attended the event, the strike should have received further support from Kerala but he was surprised it did not happen.
He also alleged that the lack of growth in the Indian sports sector was due to narrow political interests.
Aleena said the family of 10-year-old cycle polo athlete Nida Fathima, who died under mysterious circumstances in Nagpur, was expected at the event. However, her father, who works as a driver, couldn’t attend due to an assignment.
“When we initially met them (Nida’s family), it felt like they were suppressing their emotions on the wrestlers’ issue all this time. As people who raised a sportsperson, they are well aware of how difficult it is to reach such heights in sports,” she said.
Aleena also said she and her organisation would continue to raise their voice for the athletes.
As a part of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, (NAPM’s) nationwide protests from 19 to 21 May against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, Telangana-based social activists staged a flash protest on Sunday at the Maqdoom Statue on Tank Bund in Hyderabad.
The activists highlighted the struggles faced by female wrestlers and raised awareness about the alleged misconduct.
“We demanded to book him (Brij Bhushan Singh) under the POCSO and POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) Acts. The protest was also about the ruling BJP government’s incompetence in saving women sportspersons,” rights activist Deepthi Sirla, who was at the protest, told South First.
“The intention of the protest was also to highlight to the common public how safe would their children be if such renowned sportspersons’ grievances were not being addressed,” Deepthi added.
As per the protestors, Sunday was chosen as the day of protest so that several people could be part of it.
“The mainstream media is not covering the protest much,” Deepthi pointed out, adding that several passers-by joined the protest against sexual harassment allegations of Indian wrestlers.
Alleging that the Union government was shielding Singh, the protestors said, “Not always is sexual harassment or assault caught on audio or video.”
Over the past week, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu also saw a few other protests and signature campaigns expressing solidarity with the wrestlers.