As Prime Minister Narendra Modi installed the Sengol — a historic sceptre — in the new Parliament building inaugurated on Sunday, 28 May, national-level wrestlers protesting against sexual abuse by the wrestling federation chief a few kilometres away were forcibly dragged away by the police.
This, even as BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh — the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief who the wrestlers accused of the abuse — sat in the new Parliament building, protesting wrestler and Olympic medalist Sakshi Malik pointed out.
However, the grapplers’ travails did not go unnoticed. While social media pointed out the shame the police action brought to the country, politicians — especially from the Opposition parties — raised their voice in support of the athletes.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, on Sunday, reacted sharply to the police’s detention of protesting wrestlers in Delhi and targeted the Centre over the issue. He said the “Sengol has bent” the very first day.
The sceptre is said to be symbolic of upright governance and upholding of justice.
Meanwhile, the protesting wrestlers were booked for the protest, even as the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) demanded that Singhe be arrested immediately, and all the detained and arrested wrestlers be freed.
This, even as fake images of the wrestlers smiling in police custody were circulated online.
— Rahul Tahiliani (@Rahultahiliani9) May 28, 2023
Stalin reacts to wrestlers’ detention
MK Stalin was reacting to the Delhi Police detaining ace wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, and Bajrang Punia for violation of law and order in the national capital when he said “Sengol has bent the first day”.
The protesters were detained after they breached the security cordon while trying to move towards the new Parliament building for a planned “Mahila Mahapanchayat”.
Stalin said on Twitter that months had passed since the women wrestlers raised sexual assault allegations against BJP MP and WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, but the saffron party leadership has not acted against him. The
The Delhi Police filed two FIRs — including one under the POCSO Act — against Singh, who has denied all the charges.
“The police detaining them after dragging them is condemnable. This shows the Sengol has bent the very first day. Is it fair that such atrocity should also happen on a day of (new Parliament building) inauguration that sidestepped the President and amid opposition boycott,” said Stalin, also chief of the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu.
பாஜக நாடாளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர் ஒருவர் மீது மல்யுத்த வீராங்கனைகள் பாலியல் புகார் சொல்லிப் பல மாதங்கள் ஆகிவிட்டன. அவர் மீது இதுவரை அக்கட்சியின் தலைமை எந்த நடவடிக்கையும் எடுக்கவில்லை. மல்யுத்த வீராங்கனைகள் தொடர்ந்து தலைநகரில் போராடி வருகிறார்கள். இந்திய நாடாளுமன்றத்தின் புதிய கட்டடத்… https://t.co/9azP1YuSKB
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) May 28, 2023
The champion wrestlers had resumed their agitation against Brij Bhushan on 23 April, demanding his arrest for the alleged sexual harassment of several women grapplers, including a minor.
The wrestlers’ protest
Earlier in the day on Sunday, chaotic scenes were witnessed at Jantar Mantar as the wrestlers and police officers shoved and pushed each other when Vinesh Phogat, her cousin Sangeeta Phogat, and Sakshi Malik tried to breach the barricades.
The police warned the wrestlers not to move towards Parliament, but they went ahead, leading to the scuffle.
Vinesh Phogat put up stiff resistance against her detention, and Sangeeta Phogat clung to her cousin while lying on the road as the struggle continued for a few dramatic minutes.
While the women detainees were released later in the evening, Opposition parties slammed the failure of authorities to arrest Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
While the protesting wrestlers were being manhandled and detained by the police, Brij Bhushan was at the new Parliament building inauguration.
Sakshi Malik, one of the champion wrestlers leading the protest, tweeted, “Sexual abuser goon Brij Bhushan is sitting in Parliament today and we are being dragged on the road. Sad day for Indian sports.”
यौन शोषण करने वाला गुंडा बृज भूषण आज संसद में बैठा है और हमें सड़क पर घसीटा जा रहा है।
Sad day for Indian sports pic.twitter.com/ckAPmbtl4S
— Sakshee Malikkh (@SakshiMalik) May 28, 2023
Vinesh Phogat said: “Democracy is being murdered openly at Jantar Mantar. On one hand, the Prime Minister has inaugurated the new building of democracy. On the other hand, the arrests of our people are on.”
जंतर मंतर पर सरेआम लोकतंत्र की हत्या हो रही
एक तरफ़ लोकतंत्र के नये भवन का उद्घाटन किया है प्रधानमंत्री जी ने
दूसरी तरफ़ हमारे लोगों की गिरफ़्तारियाँ चालू हैं. pic.twitter.com/ry5Wv9xn5A
— Vinesh Phogat (@Phogat_Vinesh) May 28, 2023
Meanwhile, the police also destroyed the protest tents at Jantar Mantar where the wrestlers had been camping for over a month.
“After detaining all the wrestlers and elderly mothers, the police have now started dismantling our tents at Jantar Mantar. Our luggage is being removed. What hooliganism is this?” asked Sakshi in a tweet.
“Our movement is not over. After being released from police custody, we will start our satyagraha at Jantar Mantar. In this country, there will be no dictatorship but there will be satyagraha held by women wrestlers,” she tweeted in Hindi.
Congress takes on Centre
Opposition parties attacked the central government over the “manhandling” of the wrestlers on Twitter, Rahul Gandhi, in an apparent reference to the inauguration of the new Parliament building, said in a tweet in Hindi, “The coronation is over — the arrogant king is crushing the voice of people on the streets!”
Along with his tweet, he tagged a video montage of police detaining the wrestlers.
राज्याभिषेक पूरा हुआ – 'अहंकारी राजा' सड़कों पर कुचल रहा जनता की आवाज़! pic.twitter.com/9hbEoKZeZs
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 28, 2023
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said that the “arrogance” of the BJP-led government had gone up to such an extent that it was “mercilessly trampling” the voices of the country’s women sportspersons under its boots.
Targeting the government in a tweet in Hindi, Priyanka Gandhi said that the medals on the chest of the players are the “pride of our country”.
She added: “With those medals, due to the hard work of the sportspersons, the honour of the country increases. The arrogance of the BJP government has increased so much that it is mercilessly trampling the voices of our women players under its boots. This is totally wrong.”
The entire country was watching the government’s “arrogance” and injustice, she said.
खिलाड़ियों की छाती पर लगे मेडल हमारे देश की शान होते हैं। उन मेडलों से, खिलाड़ियों की मेहनत से देश का मान बढ़ता है।
भाजपा सरकार का अहंकार इतना बढ़ गया है कि सरकार हमारी महिला खिलाड़ियों की आवाजों को निर्ममता के साथ बूटों तले रौंद रही है।
ये एकदम गलत है। पूरा देश सरकार के… pic.twitter.com/xjreCELXRN
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) May 28, 2023
Slamming the Central government, Congress general secretary (communications) Jairam Ramesh said, “Today, when the prime minister was inaugurating the new Parliament building and giving a discourse on democracy, daughters who brought laurels to the country by winning medals were being detained just a short distance away from Parliament.”
He added: “This is shameful and shows the real face of the Modi government.”
आज जब प्रधानमंत्री नए संसद भवन का उद्घाटन कर रहे थे और लोकतंत्र को लेकर प्रवचन दे रहे थे, तब संसद से कुछ ही दूरी पर मेडल जीतकर देश का मान बढ़ाने वाली बेटियों को इस तरह हिरासत में लिया जा रहा था।
यह शर्मनाक है और मोदी सरकार के असली चेहरे को दिखाता है। https://t.co/86Y6FdWWgs
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) May 28, 2023
In another tweet, the former Union minister alleged that the Delhi Police’s instructions came from “the man who coronated himself today”.
Addressing reporters, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate took a swipe at the inauguration of the new Parliament building by Modi and said, “When a dictator was conducting his raj tilak ceremony, women were being dragged. Delhi was converted into a cantonment. You will follow ‘raj dharma’ if you throw out (WFI chief) Singh.”
She added: “It is a black day. History is witness that a prime minister was thinking himself to be a king. Parliament was inaugurated while women were dishonoured nearby and he remained blindfolded.”
She accused Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah of trying to save the WFI chief, who is also a BJP MP.
इतिहास साक्षी रहेगा कि कैसे एक प्रधानमंत्री अपने आप को सम्राट समझ कर, सत्ता के अहंकार में इतना चूर है कि जिस दिन नई संसद का उद्घाटन होता है उसी दिन 1 किमी की दूरी पर देश की बेटियों का चीरहरण होता है।
सम्राट ने अपनी आंखों पर पट्टी बांधी हुई है।
— Congress (@INCIndia) May 28, 2023
Newly-appointed Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar also took to Twitter to chastise the Centre over the issue.
“Even while protesting in front of the Parliament, which stands as a symbol of justice and truth, our wrestlers got mistreated & manhandled instead of justice. It is a shame that our champions are being treated this way! I strongly condemn this act by Delhi Police and stand by our wrestlers in such oppressive times.”
Even while protesting in front of the Parliament, which stands as a symbol of justice and truth, our wrestlers got mistreated & manhandled instead of justice.
It is a shame that our champions are being treated this way!
I strongly condemn this act by Delhi Police and stand by… pic.twitter.com/G5H4QMwwzy
— DK Shivakumar (@DKShivakumar) May 28, 2023
What the police said
Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Dependra Pathak claimed the protesters ignored repeated requests and warnings and “wrestled” with police personnel who tried to stop them.
“Today was an important day for the country as the new Parliament building was to be inaugurated and despite warnings and repeatedly urging protesters at Jantar Mantar to not march beyond the protest site, they continued to do so,” he said, adding the behaviour of the wrestlers was “highly irresponsible”.
“They were out to disturb the preparations made by security agencies in view of the occasion,” the senior police officer told PTI.
Asked about the police being criticised for the way they handled the situation, Pathak said that they had urged the wrestlers politely to carry out their protest at Jantar Mantar but they started “wrestling” with the police.
He also claimed that due respect was given to players and no force was used by the police personnel. “They pushed our police personnel including women constables. They indeed engaged in wrestling with our personnel. But we did not use any force. We did not use lathi-charge because they are the pride of our nation,” Pathak said.
“Instead, to contain the situation and maintain law and order, they were removed from the protest site using body-to-body push,” the officer clarified.
FIR against protest organisers
The Delhi Police, later in the day on Sunday, booked the organisers of the wrestlers’ protest at Jantar Mantar and their supporters on charges of rioting and obstructing public servants in discharge of duty after some of them were detained while marching to the new Parliament building.
The police said 700 people were detained across Delhi, including 109 protesters at Jantar Mantar.
According to a senior police officer, the FIR has been registered under Sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 353 (assault or use of criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Sections 352 (assault or criminal force otherwise than on grave provocation), 147 (rioting) and 149 (unlawful assembly) of the IPC were also invoked.
DCW demands action
Delhi Commission for Women chairperson Swati Maliwal wrote to the Commissioner of Police, demanding the arrest of BJP MP and chief of Wrestling Federation of India Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and action against personnel who detained the protesting wrestlers at Jantar Mantar on Sunday.
सुबह से हिरासत में ली गई महिला पहलवानों और समर्थकों को अब तक रिहा नहीं किया गया है। पुलिस कमिश्नर को पत्र लिख ये माँगें रखी हैं –
— Swati Maliwal (@SwatiJaiHind) May 28, 2023
In the letter addressed to Delhi Police Commissioner Sanjay Arora, Maliwal said she was deeply pained to note that Delhi Police has manhandled female wrestlers and their families protesting peacefully at Jantar Mantar and forcefully detained them today.
She further mentioned that over a month back, several women wrestlers, including a minor, had made serious allegations of sexual harassment against the Member of Parliament Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh during his tenure as the president of the Wrestling Federation of India.
She said upon intervention of the Supreme Court, two FIRs were registered in the matter against the accused person who already has around 40 other ongoing criminal cases against him.
“However, despite a minor girl alleging sexual harassment by the accused parliamentarian, Delhi Police has failed to arrest him till date. This has forced the female wrestlers to stage a protest at Jantar Mantar which has been ongoing since the past one month,” she wrote.
— Swati Maliwal (@SwatiJaiHind) May 28, 2023
The DCW chief also questioned the Delhi Police for not arresting Brij Bhushan Singh yet. “In Delhi, every day around 6 cases of sexual assault are reported and in each case, Delhi Police attempts to arrest the accused person. Then why has Brij Bhushan Singh not been arrested till date? If this is not blatant injustice, what is?” Maliwal asked.
“The women wrestlers today along with their families were manhandled and forcefully detained and taken away by Delhi Police. Several videos depicting the same have been going viral on social media. The manner in which these women champions are being dragged on the streets by Delhi Police is extremely unbecoming of the force,” the letter read.
“By denying them justice and forcefully detaining them for raising their voice against sexual harassment, Delhi Police is demoralising the women and girls of this country against reporting cases of sexual harassment and fighting for justice,” it added.