The country's top wrestlers, including Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, along with hundreds of their supporters, reached Har ki Pauri to immerse their medals in the Ganga river even as police beefed up security arrangements near the area on Tuesday.
A huge crowd gathered in Har ki Pauri as the protesting wrestlers got ready to immerse their world and Olympic medals in the holy waters as a mark of protest against outgoing Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over allegations of sexual harassment.
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.
The wrestlers stood for about 20 minutes in silence after reaching Har ki Pauri. They then sat on the banks of the river holding their citations and looking emotionally distressed.
The wrestlers, who were detained by Delhi Police and removed from their Jantar Mantar protest site on May 28, said they will immerse their hard-earned medals and sit on a hunger strike "until death" at the India Gate.
However, the Delhi Police said on Tuesday that they will not be allowed to protest at India Gate as it is a "national monument and not a site for demonstrations".
Earlier, Sakshi, bronze medallist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, had said in a statement on her Twitter handle that the wrestlers will go to Haridwar to immerse the medals.
"These medals are our life and soul. We are going to immerse them in the Ganges because she is Maa Ganga. After that, there is no point of living, so we will sit on a hunger strike until death at India Gate," she had said in the statement in Hindi. The same statement was also shared by her Vinesh.
Tuesday is the day of Ganga Dussera and a lot of people are expected at the banks to offer prayers.
"We have won these medals with the same purity as the holy Ganga. These medals are holy for the entire country and there can't be a better place to keep them than in the holy Ganga rather than it acting as a mask for the unholy system which is siding with the wrongdoer," Sakshi said.
"India Gate is the place of those martyrs who sacrificed themselves for the country. We are not as holy as them but our emotions while playing at the international level are similar to those soldiers."
Sakshi said as the "system kept trying to scare the victims and stop the protest" instead of "catching the harasser", the wrestlers felt the medals have no value and wanted to return them.
She wished president Draupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had addressed the issue.
"We don't want these medals now because by making us wear them 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."
On May 28, Delhi Police detained Malik along with world championships bronze winner Vinesh and Olympic medallist Bajrang, and later filed FIRs against the wrestlers for violation of law and order.
Unprecedented scenes of police dragging the Olympic and world championships medal-winning players were witnessed when the wrestlers and their supporters breached the security cordon ahead of their march towards the new Parliament building for the planned women's 'Mahapanchayat'.
The wrestlers did not have permission to move towards the new Parliament building, hours after it was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and when they were stopped by police, a scuffle broke out.
The protesting wrestlers and their supporters were taken to different locations in the national capital before they were released. The police officers later cleared the protest site by removing the cots, mattresses, coolers, fans and the tarpaulin ceiling along with other belongings of the grapplers.
Sakshi said the women wrestlers felt there's nothing left for them in this country as the "system has treated them cheaply". "We're reminded of the moment when we won Olympic and world championships medals. Now we feel why we won them, did we win them so that the system behaves so cheaply with us? They dragged us and then made us criminals.
"The way police behaved with us, how they arrested us with cruelty. We were doing our peaceful protest. Our protest site was also destroyed and snatched from us by the police. And the next day they lodged an FIR against us.
"Have the women wrestlers committed a crime by asking for justice after being sexually harassed? Police and system are behaving like we are criminals, whereas the actual harasser is making fun of us. They are making women wrestlers uncomfortable and laughing at them."