After Haridwar huddle, wrestlers rethink move to drop medals in Ganga.

ON A day of high drama, the protesting wrestlers, led by Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik and World Championship medallist Vinesh Phogat, announced on Tuesday that they would ‘immerse’ their medals in the Ganga river, and reached Har ki Pauri in Haridwar by evening.

After sitting in a huddle on the banks of the river for over an hour-and-a-half, where some of them could be seen sobbing as they clutched their medals and citations, the wrestlers reversed their decision, soon after Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) president Naresh Tikait reached the spot and asked them to defer their decision by five days.

Before Tikait’s arrival, as the crowd at the ghat grew bigger, a human chain of family members and other pehelwans shielded the wrestlers. Sakshi’s mother, Sudesh, held her daughter tight; Vinesh’s husband, Somvir Rathee, also a grappler, embraced her as she broke down and covered her face.

A little over an hour later, as Tikait and his supporters arrived at the spot, the wrestlers and the farm leader went into a brief huddle. And, minutes later, the wrestlers made their way to their parked vehicles.

The wrestlers said there are a couple of reasons why they changed their minds, including a phone call from a BJP leader asking for some time, and pressure from the families not to go ahead with their plans.

“We were assured that our demands would be met, so we stepped back. However, in case the government goes back on its word, we will return to the Ganga again,” said a wrestler who did not want to be named.

“We have sought five days’ time and told the wrestlers to wait. After that, we will have a mahapanchayat and take the next course of action,” Tikait said, after the wrestlers left Har Ki Pauri.

A Union Minister from western Uttar Pradesh is also learnt to have reached out to the wrestlers and urged them not to ‘immerse’ their medals.

“These medals are our life and soul. After we ‘immerse’ them in the Ganga, there would be no meaning for us to live. So we will go to India Gate and sit on a fast unto death,” it said.

The Delhi Police, however, said the wrestlers would not be allowed to protest at India Gate as it is a “national monument and not a site for demonstrations”. On Monday, the Delhi Police had said the wrestlers would not be allowed back at Jantar Mantar but could protest at any “suitable place” after seeking permission.

The choice to part with their medals was a tough call and a matter of “self respect”, the wrestlers said in their statement.

While they have been protesting on the streets of the Capital for over a month now, appealing to fellow sportspersons to rally behind them, turning to politicians for support and khap leaders for advice, and even making direct appeals to the Prime Minister, the events over the weekend pushed them into a corner, forcing them to consider the drastic step.

It included failed late-night negotiations with the government and subtle attempts to break the group, said sources. The last straw was their forceful eviction from Jantar Mantar.

According to sources, on the eve of their proposed march to the new Parliament, a high-ranking cabinet minister met Sakshi and her husband. During the last-minute parleys, the government is learnt to have proposed that action would be taken against Brij Bhushan after the police file a chargesheet. The wrestlers, however, were steadfast in their demand for his immediate arrest.

With the police filing FIRs against them on Sunday, the wrestlers said they spent the whole of Monday hiding in the fields. “The authorities should have caught the accused, but they were trying to threaten the women who were the victims to end their protest and to break them,” they said.

The wrestlers are demanding the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused of sexual harassment by seven female wrestlers, including a minor. Singh has been named in two FIRs registered by the Delhi Police on April 28, including one under the POCSO Act pertaining to the allegations of the minor wrestler.

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