India’s protesting wrestlers postpone tossing medals into Ganges

Athletes protesting against alleged sexual harassment by a top official threatened to throw their medals in the river in the temple town of Haridwar.

India’s top wrestlers have agreed to postpone plans to toss their medals into the river Ganges as they demand the arrest of the head of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) over sexual harassment allegations.

The wrestlers had been camping in New Delhi since April 23 demanding action against WFI president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, who has denied any wrongdoing.

Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, and Asian Games champion Vinesh Phogat went to the north Indian town of Haridwar along with fellow wrestlers to dump their medals as a mark of protest on Tuesday.

A prominent farmers’ leader, Naresh Tikait, convinced them to call off the act promising a solution within five days.

“Because of them, we hold our head high in international sports arena,” Tikait told the media on Tuesday. “We will make sure they won’t have to hang their head in shame.”

Sakshi Malik, in blue, an Indian wrestler who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics,
Malik, in blue, is detained by police during a protest in New Delhi on Sunday [File: Altaf Qadri/AP]

Earlier on Tuesday, the wrestlers issued a statement spelling out their plans to drown their medals in the river.

“For us, our medals are sacred, and so is the river Ganges,” they said in a statement in Hindi.

“This holy river is the perfect custodian of our medals, not the system that shields the offender.”

They also announced plans to begin an indefinite hunger strike at the India Gate war memorial in New Delhi.

“These medals are our lives, our souls. There would be no reason to live after immersing them into the Ganga today,” they said.

The act echoes iconic boxer Muhammad Ali famously throwing his 1960 Rome Olympics gold into the Ohio River after he was denied entry into a restaurant in Louisville due to racial segregation in the United States.

India wrestlers
Indian wrestlers, from right, Bajrang Punia, Sangita Phogat and Vinesh Phogat embrace before their protest march towards the new parliament building in New Delhi [File: Shonal Ganguly/AP Photo]

Singh is also a parliamentarian from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Several of the protesting wrestlers were briefly detained by the Delhi Police on Sunday and their campsite was cleared after they tried to move towards India’s new parliament building, inaugurated by Modi.

Singh, 66, has been stripped of his administrative powers but the wrestlers are seeking his arrest over allegations of sexual harassment towards female wrestlers.

The protesting athletes have also sought the intervention of the Supreme Court, which has directed police to register a case against Singh.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies