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Indian Olympic wrestlers detained as latest protest escalates

Original source (on modern site) | Article images: [1]

28 May 2023

By Kathryn Armstrong, BBC News

Watch: Indian police drag away and detain protesting wrestlers

Two Olympic wrestlers have been detained by police in India during the latest protest against the alleged sexual abuse of female athletes.

Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik were among those trying to march to Delhi's new parliament on Sunday.

Footage showed protesters climbing over barricades and being carried away by the authorities.

Two-time World Championship medallist Vinesh Phogat and her sister Sangeeta were also among the country's top wrestlers to be detained.

"This is wrong," Ms Malik told reporters after she had been placed on a bus by the authorities.

"We were walking quietly, they dragged us forcefully and detained us and they're not even telling us where we will be taken."

"Our people are not being allowed to march," said Mr Phogat, adding that the protesters "requested with folded hands" that police let them go and that they would go peacefully.

Most opposition parties boycotted the ceremony after criticising the government for not asking President Droupadi Murmu, who is head of state, to open it.

Police claimed the protesting wrestlers had not followed their directions and that they had detained those who had tried to break the barricades.

"They broke the law," Delhi's Special Commissioner of Police, Dependra Pathak told local media.

"Regarding further action, we would ascertain what rules have been violated and then take action by following due legal process."

The police also removed tents and other items from the site where the protesters have been camped out for weeks.

Their handling of the march has been criticised by a number of opposition politicians.

"Strongly condemn the way Delhi Police manhandled Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and other wrestlers," tweeted West Bengal's Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee from the All India Trinamool Congress party.

"It's shameful our champions are treated in this manner."

Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is from the Aam Aadmi Party, called the police's behaviour "very wrong and condemnable".

Ms Malik - the first Indian woman to win an Olympic wrestling medal in 2016 - later tweeted that once she and her fellow protesters were released they would begin their "satyagraha", a form of non-violent resistance, again.

The demonstrators accuse wrestling officials of sexually harassing women in the sport. That includes the head of its governing body, Brij Bhushan Singh, who denies the claims.

Their protests began in January but were called off the same month after Mr Singh was stripped of his administrative powers by the sports ministry and the government promised to investigate their complaints.

The Indian Olympic Association set up a committee to investigate the allegations against Mr Singh, which submitted its report weeks ago. The committee's findings haven't been revealed yet.

Police in Delhi were also on guard on Sunday as a group of farmers tried to enter the city to support the wrestlers. That was after dozens of farmers broke down police barricades in Delhi to join another protest earlier this month.

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