A 31-member committee comprising of various farmers leaders that is advising the protesting wrestlers on Sunday said that they would take a "significant decision" if WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is not arrested by May 21.
Wrestler Vinesh Phogat insisted that their protest has not been hijacked by farmers and that the latter joined them in their "fight against injustice".
Security measures were tightened at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar as well as on the borders of the capital city yesterday as khap panchayat leaders marched towards the protest site where Olympians and award-winning wrestlers are on a strike against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over sexual harassment allegations.
A candle march was also held yesterday.
अब हज़ारों मोमबती को बस जलाना नहीं है तो हज़ारों मोमबत्ती से दरिंदो को जलाना है 🕯️ #wrestlersprotest pic.twitter.com/H5fr2eDCOS— Bajrang Punia 🇮🇳 (@BajrangPunia) May 7, 2023
Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, Khap Maham 24 chief Mehar Singh and Sankyut Kisna Morcha's (non-political) Baldev Singh Sirsa joined the wrestlers on the dias and addressed the media.
"Many leaders from Khap panchayat and SKM attended the meeting today. We decided that members from every khap will come to the protest site every day. They will stay here during the day and return by the evening," Mr Tikait said before a huge gathering.
"The wrestlers' committee will take care of the protest and we will support the wrestlers from outside. We have scheduled a meeting for May 21. If the government does not offer a resolution, we will devise our next strategy," he added.
"If any emergency arises, if the wrestlers face any problem, the entire nation stands behind them." There has been a heavy deployment of Rapid Action Force (RAF) at the protest site with many khap leaders and farmers joining the aggrieved wrestlers.
The turbaned farmers, clad in dhoti-kurtas, and numbering in hundreds were seen at the protest site on Sunday as a 'Mahapanchayat' discussed the next move on behalf of the wrestlers. The scenes were similar to the farmers' protest that continued for 13 months until the government repealed the law.
The Delhi Police have recorded statements of the seven women complainants under section 161 while the statements under 164 (before a magistrate) under Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) are yet to be recorded.
The wrestlers have accused Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan of sexual exploitation of several women wrestlers over a period of time and have demanded his removal.
Mr Tikait said the tri-colour has been shamed and it will not be tolerated. "We will help the wrestlers in every possible manner," he said, adding that it will be a long haul and it may spread to the entire country. "It (Jantar Mantar) will remain the protest site as of now. The protest will gather momentum and spread. We have to be prepared for a long battle," he added.
"This is not a political protest, this is a non-political organisation. But a few politicians have come in support of the wrestlers, cutting across party lines," Mr Sirsa adding, "We have also decided that we will force the government to arrest Brij Bhushan. The way farmers had fought their battle (against farm laws), the wrestlers will continue their struggle in the same way."
"I request that the government does not test our patience. They had tested us some time back and we had cleared the exam," Sirsa said, referring to the farmers' victory in getting the farm laws repealed.
Vinesh Phogat, the world championship medallist, also hinted that the protest may become bigger if their demands are not met. "We can take a big call if a resolution does not come by May 21. No one has hijacked our protest, it's just that people have joined us in our fight against injustice. These people respect us and care for our dignity," she said.
"All the women can connect to this battle of ours. The supporters have given us strength. We are ready to fight." Asked if they are mentally prepared to shun training and competition for a long time, she replied in negative.
"We will compete definitely. We will prepare a plan how to go about it. We will surely go for competitions." "We have just one demand that Brij Bhushan should be first arrested and then his interrogation should take place," she said.
(With inputs from PTI)