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Manipur Video Sparks Outrage At Rohtak Mahila Khel Panchayat

At the public meeting, recurring instances of gender-based violence and issues related to women and women’s rights took centre stage

A poster at the Mahilapanchayat in Rohtak.
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On July 20, the Jaat Bhawan Hall in Haryana’s Rohtak was packed beyond capacity. A Mahila Khel Panchayat was underway. Issues pertaining to women and women’s rights, like having a special sports policy for women, formation of anti-sexual violence committees in sports federations and sexual violence and harassment at workplace were being discussed. 

At one point, slogans were raised against Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh. The Panchayat slammed the chief minister for his futile attempt to safeguard women and demanded his resignation. A few hours ago, a triggering video of two Kuki women, assaulted, raped and paraded naked by a crowd had gone viral, 76 days after the actual incident took place in Manipur. The video, widely circulated on social media platforms, caught the Centre’s attention, which until then had been silent on the issue of Manipur violence, ongoing for over two months.

During the Panchayat, Jagmati Sangawan, an international volleyball player from Haryana from the 70s, while addressing those gathered, said: “The gaze which appreciates the beauty of a body developed and built through sports has yet not been born amongst us.” 

The triggering video had deeply affected those gathered and the anger was palpable. Ironically, on the same day, former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, accused of multiple charges of sexual harassment and sexual assault, was granted bail by the Rouse Avenue Court in New Delhi. On July 20, rape and murder convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim was granted parole for the seventh time in the past two-and-a-half years. The Dera Sacha Sauda chief, serving a 20-year jail term in a Rohtak prison for raping two women disciples at his Sirsa ashram, was granted a 30-day parole.

Following protests by top wrestlers and grapplers of the country that shed light on the perpetual gender-based violence and harassment, the public meeting, helmed by Himmat NGO, proposed and passed several resolutions. 

Prior to the two-month-long protest by the wrestlers from April to June 2023, the government panel, formed to look into the multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Singh, including POCSO (Prevention of Children from Sexual Offense) charges, gave him a clean chit. The final report, given to the government in April, was made public in May upon the wrestlers' demand wherein the panel found that the wrestling body had failed in its compliance with the 2013 Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) Act. The report also revealed that 16 of the 30 national sports federations malfunctioned in following the mandatory compliance of the law.

In the wake of the ongoing assault against women in the country, Bhima Awardee Sangwan; Ranbir Singh Dhaka, Committee member of the Wrestling Players Movement and wrestling coach; MS Deshawal, former sports director and yoga coach, and the father of the junior coach who has accused Sandeep Singh of sexual harassment made scathing attacks at the state’s negligence and the BJP’s impunity to sexual offenders and unconstitutional elements. 

Olympian Sakshi Malik’s mother also attended the Panchayat. Subhashini Ali, CPI leader and daughter of female freedom fighter Dr Lakshmi Sahgal, also attended the public meeting. They expressed concerns over the grave status of women’s safety and demanded the BJP take accountability for its negligence in Manipur. She also said that the “double engine government” has crashed leading to the catastrophe in Manipur. “Both the engines have gone off the track completely and have actually crushed the people there. How can we continue with this chief minister?” she asks, adding “And now people are saying how can we continue with this government?”

Reacting to the state’s treatment of Brij Bhushan and Sandeep Singh, both accused of sexual harassment and assault, Sehgal underscored that the state has bestowed impunity on a whole string of offenders. “Ram Raheem is given parole at the drop of a hat. In the Bilkis Bano case, mass rapists and mass murderers have not just been let off on bail, but released on August 15 and were treated like heroes. In the Hathras Case, where the Dalit girl was gang raped and gave a dying declaration, three of the accused are out, and one is convicted for manslaughter and not for murder.” 

In her address, Sangawan highlighted how sports play a big role in building the confidence of a woman in a patriarchal setup. She also demanded one-third of reservations for women as coaches and trainers. Sangawan’s demand comes from the reality of a majority of sportswomen in the country who are married off and discouraged from sports. 

“Unless a girl achieves something significant, they are married off by 18 to 20, sometimes even earlier,” were the multiple responses from the villages of Haryana where one struggles to find female coaches or trainers. The dismal neglect of ICCs and PoSH in the sports fraternity despite women’s recorded increased participation in sports generates the necessity of the demanded resolutions. She also talked about the double victimisation of survivors who speak against their sexual abuse and name their abusers.

Among the many resolutions proposed at the Panchayat was the demand to change the “Bhim Award” name to Captain Lakshmi Sehgal Award. Sangawan explained that the prevalent mentality continues to associate sports with men and masculinity, which only impedes and obstructs the way for sportswomen. “Sportswomen are still labeled manly and tomboyish because of their build. Such well-doing and confident women are not preferred for marriages by many in society citing ridiculous reasons. The award name should therefore be conferred to Indian freedom revolutionary, Captain Lakshmi Sehgal.”

Without mincing words, Ranbir Singh Dhaka described Singh’s abuse of power and his violations of the law during the 2014 and 2018 international trials for the Asian and Commonwealth Games. “He’d arbitrarily select players at his own residence. We had to witness the muscleman’s misdemeanor towards other coaches and players who request for fair trials.” 

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Ashok Dhaka, the wrestling coach at Shaheed Bhagat Singh Vedik Vyam Shala in Rohtak, shares how his student was denied the opportunity to appear for fair trials during the 2014 commonwealth games. “Singh made the team selection on papers at his residence in New Delhi, without following any due protocol. When I went to request Singh for a chance at trial despite the children’s repeated warnings that he acts tyrannically, he flatly refused.”

Coming from an Army and wrestling family, Dhaka added that Singh’s treatment of him and his students reflected his dictatorial attitude, which he couldn’t tolerate. “My student was a strong competitor in his weight group but Bhushan denied him the opportunity.” The matter later went to a lower court which imposed a total fine of Rs 1,00,000, with Rs 25,000 each to the four players who were denied trials. However, the coach confirms that while no amount of money would make up for the missed opportunity, even the penalty amount was never paid to the players.

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Marking the rise of a nation where women and their rights are erased, Ali lashed out at the government’s duality. “They talk about respecting all women's rights by bringing in the Uniform Civil Code. If they are not able to implement the laws that exist, if they are not able to build a semblance of administration in a state that they are ruling, what hope are they holding out to the women.” Other speakers, including Sangawan, highlighted how the rise in instances of gender-based violence always leads to more familial and state control and prohibitions on women.

While underlying a bleak future for the country and women’s rights, Ali stated said that the Prime Minister himself must ensure that neither he nor any members of the government belonging to his party at the Centre or at the states or any BJP leaders be allowed to make any “divisive” statements. 
 

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