As everyone in the country, I too was looking forward to see the mega inauguration of the magnificent Parliament building on the morning of May 28, 2023. The yagna, respectful reception, honour, and installation of Sengole, the multi-religious prayer, honouring of the construction workers and the speech by the Prime Minister etc. gave an impression of a well-planned mega event. While the Parliament building was being inaugurated, just a km away, the protesting wrestlers had to face a hard time with the Delhi Police as their plan to hold a sit-in protest outside the new Parliament house was flogged into the ground.
The wrestlers, including Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and double World Championship medallist Vinesh Phogat have been protesting at the Jantar Mantar since April 23 demanding the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over the allegations of sexual harassment levelled by 7 women wrestlers, including one minor girl. Unprecedented scenes of police dragging the Olympic and world championship 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 toward the new Parliament building, hours after it was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. When they were stopped by police, an ugly scuffle broke out. All the wrestlers were forcibly detained by the police and removed from their protest site. Later, an FIR against them was filed for violation of law and order. Visuals of the athletes being dragged and carried off in buses went viral, sparking criticism from some top athletes and opposition politicians. In their statement, the wrestlers decried the police action against them and said they had been treated like criminals. "Have female athletes committed some crime by asking for justice for the sexual harassment committed against them?" they asked.
On May 30, top wrestlers, including Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat, put out a statement on their respective social media accounts, saying they would go to Haridwar to immerse the medals into the holy river. "These medals are our lives, our souls. There will be no reason to live after throwing them in the Ganga today," it read further. "It came to our mind how to return the medals to our President, who is herself a woman. Our conscience said NO, because she is sitting just 2 km away from us and did not utter a single word," the statement read. The wrestlers said, “The Prime Minister Narendra Modi who used to call us the daughters of this homeland, did not even once show his concern for us. Rather, he invited the oppressor to the inauguration of the new Parliament building who even posed for photographs in bright white clothes. That brightness is piercing us like it wants to convey that he is the system," it read.
“After that there is no point of living, so we will sit on a hunger strike until death at India Gate," Sakshi Malik said in the statement written in Hindi. The same statement was also shared by her compatriot Vinesh Phogat. There was a dramatic change in the scene at Haridwar. As the wrestlers proceeded to the banks of the Ganges, many well-wishers, political party representatives and farmers’ union leaders appealed to the wrestlers not to immerse the medals as they are national properties. Finally, the wrestlers changed their mind after Naresh Tikait, brother of Rakesh Tikait, reached the site and convinced the wrestlers to give the government five days to respond, local media reported. Tikait has called a khap panchayat to decide on the next course of action.
The influential politician and MP of the ruling BJP has been constantly denied the allegations and called the protests politically motivated. The Sports Minister Anurag Thakur said the wrestlers had not been stopped from protesting at their designated spots in Delhi. He said appropriate action would be taken against Mr Singh once Delhi Police completed their investigations.
The surprising matter is that till date neither Modi nor Amit Shah has uttered a word about the whole episode. None of the women ministers of the BJP has expressed any concern towards the protesting wrestlers. Whatever said and done, the whole nation witnessed and continues to witness ugly scenes of undemocratic way of ill-treatment of the medal-winning wrestlers. It is very unfortunate that today the wrestlers, who were considered pride of the nation, feel ashamed of themselves and their achievements.
As per the history of Pandiyan dynasty, Kovalan, a sea trader, tried to sell the anklet of his wife Kannagi in Madurai. The anklet was mistaken for a stolen anklet of the queen. Kovalan was accused of having stolen the anklet and was immediately beheaded by the king without trial. When Kannagi was informed of this, she became furious, and set out to prove her husband's innocence to the king. Kannagi came to the king's court, broke open the anklet seized from Kovalan and showed that it contained rubies, as opposed to the queen's anklets which contained pearls. Realizing the error, the king committed suicide in shame, after having caused such a huge miscarriage of justice. Kannagi uttered a curse and the entire city of Madurai was burnt.
History tells that Pandiyan was a just king. The Sengole in his hands made him realise his blunder. In the past wherever kings ruled, Sengole symbolised not only power but justice and righteousness. Such a Sengole has been installed inside the new Parliament. What is the message? The newly made Sengole has only one message that Modi is the king of India and he will rule over everyone in the country. Does the Sengole mean that Modi is just and righteous? Never! The Sengole, the symbol of pride, has become a symbol of shame. The Sengole is meaningless inside the Parliament that is considered as the temple of democracy. The autocratic and dictatorship style of Modi has been a shame for this democratic country. Mr. M.K. Stalin, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, said, “The Sengole is bent on the first day itself.” What he meant was that the Sengole has become crooked under the dictator.
The pictures of how the wrestlers were mistreated by the police were indeed heart-touching and disturbing. The whole inaugural ceremonies at the Parliament building were centred around Modi. The tribal-woman-President was not given an opportunity to be present on that occasion. Modi by-passed the traditional protocol purposely. On the same day of the inauguration of the new Parliament building, thunderstorm toppled the Sapta Rishi idols in Mahakal temple, Ujjain. This temple that was considered as a pride became a place of shame.
The spontaneous questions came to my mind were: Does the PM supersede the President? Have the medal-winning wrestlers become objects of shame? Why did the Mahakal temple and the Narendra Modi stadium become places of shame soon after the inauguration of Central Vista? Is India safe for women? Do women athletes have any future? Will the newly installed Sengole strengthen the dictatorship style of Modi? Are we truly living in a democratic country? Why has the Human Rights Commission become a mere spectator? What will be the fate of India in future? Let us reflect on these questions and try to find appropriate answers.
The country indeed is going through a terrible crisis under the RSS-driven BJP regime. At this critical time let us pray with Rabindranath Tagore:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free,
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments,
By narrow domestic wall;
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way,
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee,
Into ever-widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.