Top wrestlers of the country observed “Black Day” on the 19th day of their sit in protest at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) Chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is faced with charges of sexual harrasment and POCSO Act. Women groups, members of Kisaan andolan and CPI joined the wrestlers in their protest. Sporting black bands fashioned diffrently around their heads, arms and wrists, the wrestlers and their supporters registered their anger at the denial of justice through Black Day.
International medalist Vinesh Phogat, Olympians Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, national wrestling star Sangeeta Phogat, youth olympian Satyawrat Kadian and two time national gold medalist Somvir Rathee continue their fight against six time BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh and WFI Chief Brij Bhushan, alleged of sexually harassing women wrestlers on multiple occassions under different pretexts. While two FIRs have been registered against the BJP politician, who was appointed the WFI chief in 2012, no notice to date has been served to him.
Speaking with Outlook on the Black Day, wrestler Vinesh Phogat says that the symbolism of the observation is to express their anger at the systematic ignorance of their demands and failure in taking any action against Bhushan. “Everyone has known about Bhushan and his black deeds since his appointment, there is a lot of opposition behind, however, no body wants to come forward and say anything fearing the power he holds,” she says. When asked if the protesters are hopeful about any positive outcome from their protest, a determined Vinesh says, “We have faith in this country. Whatever happens will go down in history. What happened or happens to the daughters of this country shall be known.”
With barely a month and a half left for Asian Games 2023 trials, scheduled for the third week of june, the wrestlers have expressed their concerns regarding their training and well being. They are nonetheless clear on their stance over the protest. "The protest will continue as long as our demands are not met. Only three of us will go for trials, the rest of us will keep fighting. it will not have any affect on the protest,” Vinesh told Outlook. She also added that the protest has affected their training, but they have nonetheless resolved to continue wrestling for justice and for the country. Earlier, while talking to Outlook, Malik had shared that they were getting a minimum sleep of four hours everyday.
Though the entire country has extended its support to the wrestlers’ cause, BJP and mainstream media has attempted to tarnish the protestors' image. Union Minister and BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi had mentioned to the press that the credibility of the protest was “dented” after “discredited” politicians and “those who were involved in scams” joined the wrestlers. About two weeks ago, PT Usha’s remarks sparked controversy after she critcised the wrestlers for not waiting for the report of a committee tasked to look into their allegations before deciding to sit on a public protest. She had said that wrestlers protest is 'tarnishing India's image'.
On May 3rd, the Rajya Sabha member and retired athlete came to meet the wrestlers at the protest site. On her remarks, Vinesh says, “She clarified that her comments were misquoted by the media. However, as a fellow sportsperson we have immense respect for her. We understand that she has a lot of pressure as she has been given a position by the government.”
Indian Army veteran’s wife, Sudesh Goyat has also joined the wrestlers in their match against Brij Bhushan since day one. Goyat emerged as a strong force at the Tikri border during the farmers’ protest by mobilising rural women from Haryana to be a part of the protest and empowering them in multiple ways. She sits next to Malik’s mother on Black Day as Outlook approaches her. Goyat was accused of heckling PT Usha by the media about a week ago. Clarifying her stance, Goyat says, “I am an Army veteran’s wife who very well understands the concept of discipline. There were police personnel and media at the time I was asking questions from PT Usha. Had I manhandled her, wuuld they not have arrested me? Could no media cameras catch that I misbehaved with PT Usha?”
Goyat said that the narrative was an attempt to tarnish the credibility of the protest. She added that Prime Minister Modi had called Vinesh “his daughter” but he seems to be blinded like Dhritarashtra (a character from Hindu epic Mahabharata) despite two functioning eyes at the acts of his minister. Accusing Aaj Tak editor Sudhir Chaudhary of accusing her falsely for heckling PT Usha, she says, “I will be talking to my lawyer and sue Chaudhary for defamation.”
Talking about the scuffle with Delhi police on the night of May 3rd, Vinesh told Outlook that drunk police officials misbehaved with her. However, despite submitting a written complaint, no FIR was lodged by the police in the case.