Next Sunday, the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the new parliament, the protesting wrestlers will participate in a “mahila mahapanchayat” outside the edifice. The choice was made at a mahapanchayat summoned by the 24 village Maham Chaubisi khap in Haryana’s Maham town’s Rohtak district.
The wrestlers’ 15-day ultimatum to the government came to an end on that particular day. Last week, the demonstrators threatened to make “big decisions” if Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the former president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), was not placed under arrest by Sunday (May 21).
“We had declared that we’ll take some big decisions today if Singh is not arrested in 15 days. It has been decided that a mahila mahapanchayat will be held outside the new parliament building on May 28 and the wrestlers will attend,” Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia said.
Women from Rohtak, Jhajjar, Narnaul, Faridabad, Rewari, Charkhi Dadri and Gurugram districts of Haryana are likely to form the bulk of the scheduled congregation.
“We urge women from all over India to join us. This is a battle for our daughters. Soon, we’ll take to social media to request women to reach Delhi by next Sunday,” Punia added.
Representatives of farmer organisations, women’s groups, and khaps were present at the mahapanchayat. Sakshi Malik, who won bronze at the Rio Games, was the only wrestler present at the Jantar Mantar sit-in.
Rakesh Tikait, the leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), who has visited the protesters at least twice throughout the sit-in, was present at the mahapanchayat. He was cited as adding, “The government will try to raise allegations against the wrestlers, but we are ready for the long fight.”
The wrestlers’ intention to march to India Gate by candlelight on May 23 to commemorate one month of their current protest received backing from the khap leaders.
“It is a shame that the women of this country have to sit on pavements to seek justice and yet there is no action from the government. Why is one man (Singh) so important to this government? I feel there are two different laws in this country, one for common citizen and another for powerful people such as Singh,” Punia said.
Along with paying their respects at Rajghat, the wrestlers have marched three times in the past week to various spots in and around Connaught Place. Both the processions and the mahila mahapanchayat were not authorised by the police, and they have no intention of doing so.
“Why is authorization required for this? If Delhi Police requests that we obtain permission, we will do so. Punia stated in reference to the top wrestlers being denied access into the Arun Jaitley Stadium on Saturday: “We didn’t breach any rules yesterday either, but were treated like criminals. Despite having five legal tickets, they were turned away by the police from watching the IPL match between the Delhi Capitals and Chennai Super Kings from the stands.
“We were not carrying any posters or banners. We did wear white t-shirts that had a slogan in support of wrestlers printed on it, but we are free to wear what we want. If someone wants to watch a CSK-DC match wearing a Mumbai Indians jersey, will you deny entry to him/her?
“We don’t have anything against police officials. But the government has left us in the cold. We wrote to all women MPs from the BJP but not one has contacted us. It’s a shame,” said Punia, a multiple world championships medallist.
The commotion has affected the wrestlers’ preparation, diet, rest, and recovery. While some of them continue to exercise sometimes, the regimen required at the elite level has vanished. Vinesh Phogat, a two-time bronze medalist at the World Championships, and Punia are both on the Asiad long list, but their chances of being selected are extremely slim.
They have missed the Asian Championships, the Zagreb and Alexandria ranking series, and are scheduled to miss the Bishkek ranking series next month. Asian Games in Hangzhou take place in September–October.
“I don’t think we are physically or mentally ready for Asian Games. At our current level, we won’t even win the selection trials, forget winning a medal. Our only objective now is to get Singh arrested,” Punia, a two-time Asian Games medallist and the defending champion in 65kg class, said.
The wrestlers’ petition will be heard in a Delhi magistrate court again on May 27.