Wrestler’s Protest: What Happens When Women Want Justice!

What lessons will we learn from the wrestlers' protest? Will the young girls have the courage to speak up against evil after they hear the deafening silence of support for the Betis?

On the 28th of May, Indian wrestlers Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Sangeeta Phogat, Bajrang Punia and others were forcibly evicted from their protest site at Jantar Mantar. They were arrested, and severe charges were slapped against them.

Newspapers, that a few years ago, had carried photographs of these wrestlers proudly holding their medals draped in the Indian flag, were now splashed with photographs of these wrestlers being forcibly dragged into police buses. The wrestlers were protesting against Brij Bhushan Singh, an MP and president of the Wrestling Foundation of India, accusing him of sexual misconduct.

Sexual abuse of women and girls in sports, unfortunately, is common!

A similar case of molestation rocked US gymnastics a few years ago, where Larry Nassar, the team doctor, was accused and finally convicted of sexual abuse. The victims included Olympic medallist Simone Biles. During the trial, several lapses by the USAG and MSU in investigating the accusations came in front.

This led the US Congress to pass the Protecting Young Victims From Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act, 2017, which requires sports bodies and associations to report sex-abuse allegations immediately to local or federal law enforcement of child welfare agencies.

The contrast between the two cases could not have been starker. In the US, lapses were acknowledged, mistakes were owned up to and redressal was made. Elected representatives of that country took immediate steps to make sports safer for all.

Why are the victims being discredited in India?

In India, it is the wrestlers who are being discredited. Rather than being given an assurance that their grievances will be heard and justice will be done, they are being pushed into jails.

This underlies the hidden reason why women in India hesitate in raising a sexual abuse claim.

In the past few years, many cases have come to the forefront where women were assaulted and humiliated. These women didn’t give up, continued to fight for justice, and yet, they were the ones who had to pay the price.

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In the Unnao rape case, the victim’s father was killed, and her car was crushed, leading to grievous injuries. The man accused was found guilty and convicted but has been repeatedly granted bail. In September 2020, a Dalit woman was raped. Her injuries were so severe that she died, but even in death, she didn’t get justice as her body was cremated forcibly in the middle of the night to remove all evidence.

In the Kathua rape case, a minor girl was repeatedly raped and finally killed. When her community tried to get justice for her, the case took on a communal spin, with the Hindu Ekta Manch coming out in support of the accused.

The most heartbreaking was the Bilkis Bano case, where convicted rapists and murderers were set free. They were welcomed back with sweets, garlands and the perpetrators were labelled, “sanskari”.

Why is it so easy to support the perpetrator?

With the wrestlers’ protest, the attempt to discredit and turn public sympathy against them has already started. Morphed photos of Vinesh and Sangeeta Phogat smiling after the arrest in the police bus started circulating within hours.

News channels, instead of investigating the claims of the wrestlers, are schooling them on how they should protest by returning the perks given to them by the GOI.

The supporters of Brij Bhushan Singh, including a few religious leaders from Ayodhya, have gone to the extent of asking for an amendment of the POSCO act (under which Brij Bhushan Singh is accused). And the government representatives, rather than answering the questions, were found jogging to avoid journalists.

How safe are women in India?

The wrestler’s protest has raised many issues, the biggest being, how safe are the women in India.

Women and girls face a duality in India. On one hand, they are revered as the manifestation of the goddess and yet, for a woman to walk down the street alone, unmolested, seems like a far-fetched dream.

Speaking up when after one has been molested takes courage. Courage, that most women lack due to the lack of support. Most women stay quiet, internalizing the trauma of molestation. Women have been conditioned to keep quiet and not raise a fuss.

We are taught to believe that if one has been sexually harassed then, it must have been our fault. It takes years to discard the conditioning and the shame of being abused. It is not easy to overcome the trauma and the betrayal.

Why are we not defending the Betis of Hindustan now?

Thus, when I say that the women wrestlers showed exemplary courage, I mean it.

However, rather than applauding the courage, the victims face vilification in our country. They are the ones who face public scrutiny, their characters assassinated, their reputations blown to smithereens, their job prospects bleak, and their wound probed over and over again.

Sometimes I wonder what the young generation, watching the wrestler’s protest, must be feeling. What lessons will they learn from the protest? Will the young girls have the courage to speak up against evil after they hear the deafening silence of support for the Betis of Hindustan?

Image Source: Screengrab from ABP’s Youtube Channel, edited on CanvaPro

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