Sakshi Malik: Hurt by Indian PM Modi’s silence on wrestlers’ protests

Sakshi Malik
Image caption,Top Indian wrestler Sakshi Malik spoke to the BBC about the protests

By Divya Arya

Rohtak, Haryana

Indian wrestler Sakshi Malik says she is “hurt” that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not yet commented on the allegations of sexual misconduct against the outgoing wrestling federation of India (WFI) chief.

“When we won medals, he [Mr Modi] invited us home for lunch, he treated us with so much love and respect. It does hurt that he is now silent over this issue,” Malik, the first Indian woman to win an Olympic wrestling medal, told the BBC.

She is among a group of top Indian wrestlers who have been protesting for months, demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is also an influential MP from Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Mr Singh denies all the allegations against him.

Delhi police have opened two cases against the MP based on the testimonies of seven athletes who accuse Mr Singh of harassing them for years. As one of the complaints is from a minor, police have invoked the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act. Mr Singh has said that the law was being misused. He has been questioned by police but not arrested yet.

Malik and other top wrestlers temporarily suspended their agitation last week after they met Sports Minister Anurag Thakur who promised to complete the investigation against Mr Singh by 15 June.

“Depending on how strong the charges against him are, we will decide our next course of action. But our fight for justice is far from over,” Malik said.

“Mr Modi should definitely get involved and ensure that the police investigation is impartial. All we really want is a fair and proper investigation,” she added.

The government has also promised that neither Mr Singh, nor any of his close associates, would have a role in the new wrestling federation which will be elected by 4 July. But the wrestlers say he’s an influential man and only his arrest would stop him from interfering in the federation’s affairs.

The wrestlers first began protests in January but called it off the same month after India’s sports ministry stripped Mr Singh of his administrative powers for a few weeks and the government promised to investigate their complaints.

But the protests restarted in April, with the wrestlers calling for his arrest.

Last month, the protest site was cleared and several wrestlers were briefly detained as they tried to march to India’s new parliament. The police also filed cases including of rioting against them.

Visuals of the athletes being dragged and carried off in buses went viral, sparking criticism from top athletes and opposition politicians. The International Olympic Association also weighed in, calling for an impartial probe.

On 30 May, the wrestlers threatened to dump their medals into the Ganges – India’s holiest river – following which a delegation of protesters met Home Minister Amit Shah at his residence last week.

Malik said it was hurtful to watch the prime minister do nothing throughout this period: “We were on the streets for about 40 days… There was nothing even though he was well aware of what we were protesting about.”

Last week, Indian media reported that the minor athlete had withdrawn her allegations against Mr Singh.

Malik said she was not in touch with the complainant, but believed that “the player was pressurised into withdrawing the charges”.

“Even if charges under Pocso are not applicable, there are still plenty of complaints against Mr Singh for which he should be arrested. But it seems that laws are not equal for everyone,” she added.

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