Haridwar, May 30
On a day of high drama, the protesting wrestlers reached the banks of the Ganga here today to immerse their Olympics and world championship medals in the holy river, but refrained after being convinced by khap leaders who sought five days to address their grievances.
The medals are our lifeline. After immersing these in the Ganga, we will start a fast-unto-death at India Gate. Sakshi Malik, wrestler
Accompanied by hundreds of their supporters, the wrestlers, including Olympics medallists Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and Asian Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat, arrived at Har ki Pauri to protest the alleged inaction against Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused of sexually harassing several women grapplers. Brij Bhushan, a BJP MP from Kaiserganj, has denied the allegations as a “conspiracy against him”.
Muhammad Ali moment
Episode reminiscent of the 1960 incident in which boxer Muhammad Ali threw Olympics gold into the Ohio in protest against racial discrimination in the US
Sakshi, Vinesh and her cousin Sangeeta were seen sobbing as their husbands tried to console them even as scores of their supporters formed a cordon around them. “After much persuasion, the wrestlers handed over their medals to khap leaders Naresh Tikait and Baba Shyam Singh Malik to end what could have been the darkest day in Indian sports,” said a khap leader.
The wrestlers stood for about 20 minutes in silence after reaching Har ki Pauri. Sombir Rathi, Vinesh’s husband, was holding the Asian Games medals won by his wife. Sakshi was holding tightly the framed Olympic bronze medal she had won in 2016 in Rio. “We put our ‘pagdis’ (turbans) before the wrestlers and told them not to lose hope and return,” Shyam Malik told The Tribune.
Chaotic scenes were witnessed at the Har ki Pauri as khap and farmer leaders broke the human chain of supporters to reach out to the grapplers, even as thousands of devotees, who had gathered on the occasion of Ganga Dasehra, looked baffled as commotion reigned supreme.
Tikait, who heads the Baliyan Khap and is also the president of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, said, “We have sought five days to sort out the matter. If we fail, the khaps will unitedly decide the future course.” The wrestlers had reached Har ki Pauri by 5.45 pm and proceeded to immerse the medals by 6 pm. However, they had to wait there for almost two hours due to last-minute deliberations—first with their coaches and then community leaders.
Wishing President Draupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “addressed the issue, Sakshi put out a long statement on the social media: “These medals have been our lifeline. We are going to immerse these in the Ganga. After that, there will be no point in our living and we will start a fast-unto-death at India Gate. We don’t want these medals now because by making us wear these, this shiny system is using it as a mask for its own publicity while exploiting us. If we speak against this exploitation, it prepares to send us to jail.”
— (With PTI inputs)
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