Top wrestlers of the country, who have protesting for over a month now against Wrestling Federation of India chief Brijbhushan Sharan Singh were on their way to the new Indian Parliament on May 28 when Delhi police manhandled and detained them.
The protesters including Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Sangeeta Phogat and Bajrang Punia planned to demonstrate outside the building, inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi the same day. The grand structure is at a distance of a few kilometres from their protest site, Jantar Mantar. The police said 700 people were detained across the national capital. As many as 109 protesters, including the three wrestlers, were detained at Jantar Mantar.
While women detainees were released later in the evening, Punia was released late at night. The police also stated that the protesters did not follow their directions and those who tried to break security barricades were detained. Several videos and photographs on social media showed the police dragging the wrestlers. Pictures and videos of Malik and the Phogat sisters’ manhandling went viral and sparked criticism from several quarters.
Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Punia along with other protesters were booked for rioting and obstructing public servants in discharge of duty after a scuffle with security personnel who attempted to bar them from marching to the new Parliament building as it was being inaugurated. Police also cleared the protest site at Jantar Mantar.
Reacting to a video which showed police pulling the Phogat sisters as they sat on the road, Olympic medallist Neeraj Chopra tweeted, "This makes me sad. There has to be a better way to deal with this.”
Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri was quoted saying, "Why does it have to come down to our wrestlers being dragged around without any consideration? This isn't the way to treat anyone. I really hope this whole situation is assessed the way it should be.”
Several opposition leaders, including Congress's Rahul Gandhi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, criticised the police's actions. They also accused the government and Delhi police of failing to take any action and registering a complaint in the first place against Bhushan, while they brutally attempt to quash the wrestlers’ protest.
A timeline of all that has unfolded so far:
Jan 18: Wrestlers gather at Jantar Mantar and accuse WFI chief Brij Bhushan Singh of sexual harassment. Vinesh says that she has received death threats from WFI officials close to the president. The wrestlers allege that there is an environment of “fear and intimidation” in national camps and even some national coaches act on Singh’s behalf. They demand Singh’s resignation and dissolution of the WFI while Singh refutes all charges.
Sports Ministry seeks an explanation from the WFI and gives it 72 hours of time to respond. The ministry says action could be taken against the federation as per the provisions of the National Sports Development Code if WFI fails to meet the deadline.
Jan 19: BJP member and former wrestler Babita Phogat meets the wrestlers and says she will speak to the government. Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Ravi Dahiya, and world championships medallist Deepak Punia join the protest. Wrestlers from Haryana and Delhi also come out in support. However, they ask politicians to stay away from the protest. Wrestlers say they have evidence of sexual harassment and, if need be, will file an FIR against Singh.
Wrestlers meet Sports Minister Anurag Thakur at his residence. The meeting lasts nearly five hours ending late at night but no solution is found.
Jan 20: Wrestlers continue their protest, and write a complaint letter to the Indian Olympic Association president PT Usha. They again demand Singh’s resignation, the formation of an inquiry committee to probe the allegations, the dissolution of WFI and appointment of a new committee to run WFI in consultation with the wrestlers.
Jan 21: Wrestlers meet Thakur again. After fresh deliberations, wrestlers call off the protest late in the night after the sports minister promises an Oversight Committee will be formed to probe the allegations and Singh will step aside till the probe is completed.
WFI submits response to Ministry, denies allegations of sexual harassment of women wrestlers by WFI president Singh and their coaches. “Not a single allegation of sexual harassment is accepted nor has ever been noticed nor found nor so far complained nor reported to sexual harassment committee to WFI, hence allegations to that effect are equally malicious and unfounded without being any truth in the matter,” it said.
Sports ministry asks WFI to suspend all ongoing activities with immediate effect, including a ranking tournament in Gonda and scheduled emergency AGM meeting of WFI. The ministry also suspended assistant secretary of WFI, Vinod Tomar.
Jan 23: Ministry names Mary Kom as head of the five-member Oversight Committee (OC). Olympic bronze medallist grappler Yogeshwar Dutt, former India badminton player Trupti Murgunde, former CEO of Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), Captain. Rajagopalan and former SAI Executive Director (Teams) Radhica Sreeman were also part of the committee. The committee was given four weeks to complete the probe. OC was mandated to run WFI's functioning during the period.
Jan 31: Protesting wrestlers complain they were not consulted on the names of the panel members. Babita Phogat was included in the Oversight Committee as the sixth member.
Feb 23: Oversight Committee's tenure extended by two weeks.
April 16: WFI announces election on May 7 after the Oversight Committee’s report was submitted to the sports ministry. The ministry does not make the report public. Singh, who completed three terms in office, says he will not contest for president's post
April 23: Wrestlers, including Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik, resume their protest at Jantar Mantar. They say seven female wrestlers, including a minor, filed a sexual harassment complaint against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh at CP police station but Delhi Police has not registered FIR. They demand police register an FIR against Singh based on the complaint and ask the Ministry to make public the findings of the Oversight Committee.
April 24: Sports Ministry says the absence of a duly constituted Internal Complaints Committee under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act is one of the ‘major findings’ in the probe report of the Oversight Committee (OC). The Ministry also declared WFI's election process 'null and void.'. In a letter to the IOA president PT Usha, the Ministry asks the IOA to form an ad-hoc committee to conduct the WFI elections within 45 days of the panel’s formation and run the WFI during the period.
April 25: Wrestlers move Supreme Court seeking registration of FIR against Singh. SC terms the sexual harassment allegations against Singh as “serious” and issued notice to the Delhi Police asking it to file its response by Friday.
May 3: A scuffle broke out between the wrestlers and the Delhi Police. Protesters accuse drunk officials of manhandling them and misbehaving with the female wrestlers. The altercation led to detention while some wrestlers also sustained injuries.
May 11: Sporting black bands fashioned differently around their heads, arms and wrists, the wrestlers and their supporters registered their anger at the denial of justice by observing Black Day at the protest site.
May 23: The protest by wrestlers at Jantar Mantar reached the one-month mark. “Under this flag, we won medals, under this flag we will protest...” Bajrang Punia said while addressing a massive crowd of protestors assembled at India Gate on Tuesday evening while Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat wave the tricolour from atop a platform.
28 May: The protesters march towards the New Parliament being inaugurated by PM Modi where Delhi Police tries to stop them leading to an altercation. Medal-winning champions are dragged by the police while attempting to cross the barricades. Delhi Police slap them with rioting and other charges.