As Mr Modi basked in the grandeur of the new Parliament's inauguration on a Sunday, many of us saw a distressing sight. Images of women, formidable wrestlers and champions, being subjected to police brutality while protesting at Jantar Mantar flooded our screens.
These protests, which had commenced months earlier, were fuelled by accusations of sexual harassment. Seven women wrestlers, one of whom was a minor, bravely came forward to accuse Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the former head of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), of sexual misconduct. They further alleged that he resorted to intimidation tactics to prevent them from speaking up.
In January, the women called off their protest as the Government provided assurances of setting up a panel to investigate their claims. Former Boxing Champion, and member of Parliament Mary Kom headed the investigation. But the report was never made public.
While supporters of Sharan Singh, and apologists for the government’s inaction in the face of mounting criticism say that you cannot allow street protests to determine the guilt of a person, the fact remains that the wrestlers had followed the full process before their protests began. They initially reported the matter to the police, followed by the Indian Olympic Association, and ultimately approached Sports Minister Anurag Thakur. However, faced with persistent inaction, they turned to the highest judicial authority in the land, the Supreme Court.
Responding to their plea, the court directed the police to register the case. The Delhi police that is so remarkably fast when it comes to unleashing charges against students, environmental activists, journalists and others – made a show of complying with the Court’s orders in extremely slow motion
Wrestlers vs The System
Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is a powerful man with powerful friends. Friends who can unleash the power of the state against those who oppose them. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is not just the strong man of wrestling, but also the strong man of Ayodhya. He is the current sitting Member of Parliament for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Incidentally, on the day of the inauguration of the New Parliament, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh was present, while the women who accused him were carted away to prison.
We can look at the sexual harassment charges against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh with the same lens that we look at all other sexual harassment cases. Powerful man, not so powerful women. The result is almost always the same. The powerful man has the capacity, and the backing of very powerful friends, to wait out the charges. This is the same thing that happened with a bunch of very famous men in India and elsewhere. Most of them faced a bit of social ostracisation and a few months later all is forgiven, and they are back ruling the roost.
The women who accused them, however, are out in the cold – labelled troublemakers, and finding it difficult to find work, or the ability to sustain themselves.
With Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh there was not even the temporary ostracisation. Both he and the BJP decided to brazen out allegations of sexual harassment, from not 1 but 7 separate women – one of whom was a minor – and instead cast allegations on the women who we complaining.
In 2017, the Me Too movement shook the world. In a world where the onus of sexual harassment or sexual assault was on the woman – you must have done something to provoke him – the floodgates opened, as women across nations, across age groups, across race and religion, came out to say “Yes, I was sexually harassed”. And other women added their voice – Me Too.
It was an incredibly powerful moment in history, as women finally could open up about their deep pain on not just having to cope with the harassment, but also the silence that followed. In a world where silence was the norm, a powerful movement emerged, starting as a whisper, growing into a resounding shout that continues to echo across the globe. It all began with courageous women come out and sharing their experiences, talking about their deep sense of shame and humiliation. Talking about the deep hurt that came from a world that would not believe them. And, a power structure that would stand by those who molested.
Today 6 years later, nothing has changed. The power structure – powerful men, and women who enable sexual harassment by their implicit silence, and explicit support – is back in full force shielding men in powerful positions from the consequences of their actions.
On Tuesday as the wrestlers stood by the banks of the River Ganga at Haridwar, and swore to drop their medals as they began a fast unto death. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh got the mahants of Ayodhya to speak up for his ‘good conduct’. They reported that ‘as far as they know’ he couldn’t have done this kind of act.
In a world still marred by gender inequality and a power structure that shields the mighty, the objectification of women persists. The distressing sight of wrestlers facing police brutality while protesting sexual harassment serves as a stark reminder of the battles yet to be won. Despite following the proper channels and enduring the slow march for justice, their voices continue to be silenced by a system that favours the powerful.
The Me Too movement offered a glimmer of hope, but six years later, little has changed. The pain of women remains unheard, overshadowed by a society that fails to believe, support, and protect them. As courageous women continue to share their experiences, the resounding cry for justice echoes across the globe, demanding an end to the pain endured by countless women who dare to speak out.
Views expressed by the author are their own.
Suggested Reading: Our Women Wrestlers Are Fighting The Good Fight. But Why Is No One Cheering?