Wrestlers forcefully evicted: Two versions, one outcome
Indian wrestlers' protests against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh took a violent turn on Sunday after they decided to march towards the new parliament building, breaching security. As they got involved in a scuffle with Delhi Police, here's what the cops had to say.
In what could bring about a forceful end to the wrestlers' protest at Jantar Mantar, the Delhi police on Sunday detained Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia for violation of law and order after they breached the security cordon while trying to move towards the new Parliament building for a planned women's 'Mahapanchayat'.
Immediately after the wrestlers were pushed into buses and taken to different locations, the police officers began clearing the protest site by removing the cots, mattresses, coolers, fans and the tarpaulin ceiling along with other belongings of the wrestlers. It seems the police will not allow the wrestlers back to the protest site though no official statement has been made in this regard.
The police had warned the wrestlers not to move towards Parliament, but they went ahead, leading to the scuffle. The champion wrestlers had resumed their agitation against former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on April 23, demanding his arrest for alleged sexual harassment of several women grapplers, including a minor.
Chaotic scenes were witnessed at Jantar Mantar as wrestlers and police officers shoved and pushed each other when Vinesh Phogat, her cousin sister Sangeeta Phogat and Sakshi tried to breach the barricades. Vinesh provided a strong resistance against her detention, and Sangeeta clung to her cousin sister while lying on the road, as the struggle continued for a few dramatic minutes.
The police officials dragged and lifted them into buses along with several other wrestlers and their supporters. "They have been detained for violating law and order. We will take legal action after an inquiry in due course of time," said Dependra Pathak, Special CP, Law and Order.
"We need to assess the entire situation. As you have seen, the barricades have been broken, and they moved ahead despite requests and warnings. So, that is why we have removed them from here. The bottom line is, peace and tranquillity will be maintained. We will ensure professional steps to see to it that nothing goes wrong," he added.
Earlier in the day, Pathak urged the wrestlers to not indulge in anti-national activities on the "historic day" of the inauguration of the new Parliament building by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "Today is the inauguration of our new Parliament. It is an important day for our country and a proud moment. So, any type of agitation or march on this day is anti-national-No way Delhi Policy can afford any lapse. We respect and love our athletes but can't allow any untoward incident," he said.
The protesting wrestlers and their supporters have been taken to different locations in the national capital. While Bajrang has been detained at a police station near Mayur Vihar, Sakshi is in Burari. Vinesh and Sangeeta were taken to Kalkaji. The Delhi Police had beefed up security at Jantar Mantar following protesting wrestlers' call for a 'Mahila Samman Mahapanchayat' before the new Parliament Building on Sunday.
A teary-eyed Vinesh, who showed maximum resistance, later said from a bus that they are being punished for demanding justice. "The accused is roaming free. He is being given shelter by the government and athletes who won medals for the country are now being put in jail for demanding justice for the country's daughters. Welcome to the new country," Vinesh said.
Bajrang feels grave injustice was being meted out to them for demanding justice. "The accused has such audacity that he is talking about changing the POCSO Act, and you are doing nothing against him, and here are athletes who are demanding justice with folded hands, and you are ill-treating them. Over 2000 of our supporters were detained. Everywhere dictatorship is going on," he said.
Later, he tweeted, "Does any government treat the champions of the country like this? What crime have we committed?" Sakshi also took to Twitter to vent out her anger against the government and the Delhi Police. "This is how our champions are being treated. The world is watching us! Sexual abuser goon Brij Bhushan is sitting in the Parliament today, and we are being dragged on the road. Sad day for Indian sports. Was it a crime to bring medals for the country? If yes, then hang us," the Olympic medallist wrote.
Ironically, both Bajrang and Vinesh were detained just metres away from Brij Bhushan's official residence at 21, Ashoka Road. Thousands of police personnel were deployed, and multiple layers of barricades were in place in the Lutyens' Delhi. The wrestlers, staging a sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar about two kilometres from the Parliament building, had said they would go ahead with their 'Mahapanchayat' at any cost.
The agitating wrestlers, including the likes of Olympic medallists Bajrang, Sakshi, and Asian Games gold winner Vinesh have been demanding the arrest of the outgoing WFI President, who they have accused of sexually harassing several women grapplers. The wrestlers had said that the use of force by police would not deter them from going ahead with their peaceful march and the Mahapanchayat. In a video shared by the wrestlers, Sakshi's husband Satyawart Kadian and Jiternder Kinha were seen shouting the slogan 'Inqalab Jindabad' from inside the bus, as the police vehicle whisked them away.