By BA & and Venkatesh Sundaram
The country has witnessed for several months now the struggle of female wrestlers in the capital, who have accused the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President, Mr. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, Member of Parliament, of egregious sexual harassment charges against many of them.
Source of image: https://sabrangindia.in/article/deathly-silence-violence-journey-wrestlers-struggling-justice/
Amongst those who have been demanding an immediate arrest of the accused and pressing of charges and investigation and due process are several Olympic and other medallists, alumni of prestigious institutes and many more. It has taken the police several weeks and an order from the Supreme Court to even register an FIR against the accused. But those protesting have been treated like criminals, whisked away by the police, and been charged with disobedience and rioting and the like, bringing back memories of draconian British era laws and practices.
Thousands of citizens have lent their voices to the protesters who simply are demanding that the law take its course. There have been attacks on the wrestlers including name calling, forcible eviction from the site of their democratic, non-violent, and peaceful protests, and followed even by morphing of photographs, depicting them as smiling while being taken away, while in reality they were in tears and deep pain and anguish. At the time of writing, on 7th June 2023, it is reported that the struggle has been “suspended” till June 15th, following a meeting of the wrestlers with the sports minister. This has been done on the basis of an assurance that the chargesheet against the ex-President of the WFI will be filed by that date, and that the FIR lodged against the protesting wrestlers would be withdrawn. Elections to the WFI are to be conducted by June 30, and Brij Bhushan’s kin and associates are not to take part in them.
It remains to be seen if the government will live up to the assurances given in this instance, or, as has happened in only too many instances in the past with governments, will renege on them. Nevertheless, the events bring to the fore several questions that face the people of India, and in particular also the plight of women who are at the receiving end of an uncaring and patriarchal government and establishment, that far from offering women protection against assault and violence, refuse to even take their testimonies seriously. Instead, they offer protection to those accused of sexual molestation and violence. It also highlights the fact that there is utter criminalisation of politics, with hundreds of MPs and MLAs having criminal antecedents holding office. These elements not only dominate the political arena, but as can be seen in this instance, also dominate other spheres of public activity including popular sports.
The accused in this case has a long history of violent behaviour and is said to have had his early beginnings in political life as an organiser of the mobs that were involved in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. It may be recalled that in the Ram Janmabhoomi verdict, the Supreme Court observed that the demolition was illegal, even though it found no one who could actually be held responsible for the utterly criminal act of demolition. Matters being such as they are, the case raises far more questions than it answers as to why the accused enjoys so much protection, even when there are so many women wrestlers who have publicly accused him of sexual harassment.
The fact that peaceful demonstrations and the democratic right to protest do not or rarely yield any results is a fact of life in the country. The present struggle involves a small number of people, and despite the high-profile nature of the accusers, there was no substantial response from the government for weeks on end. There are many who opine that the “law must take its course”. But what if the police do not even register a case, as in the present instance, even though they are bound to do so by the same law? Saying that the law must “take its course” seems to be tantamount to saying that it is obvious that it won’t act against persons in high places. On the other hand, there are those who say that it is the wrestlers who have violated the law because they broke picket lines. The police in fact acted harshly against the protestors, not the person accused of serious crimes. This makes it clear that the “law of the land” only deals harshly with those demanding justice, while protecting those who enjoy political clout even though they indulge in criminal acts against women with impunity.
In the recent past, the country has witnessed much larger scale demonstrations against what several sections of the population consider unfair ordinances and laws. Of note are the CAA and NRC struggles, epitomised by the Shaheen Bagh protests which went on for months. Many sections of the media, far from being unbiased reporters, took sides and hurled abuses at the protesters, calling them anti-nationals, paid agents of foreign states, and brought severe disrepute to the field of media reporting. More recently, the protests against the Farm Laws met a similar fate, and only sustained efforts from large sections of the farming communities met tin the laws being scrapped. But at the cost of several hundreds of lives, including some lost to brazen murder when the son of an MP drove his vehicle over protestors.
The situation has arisen because people really have no powers under the existing system of representative democracy. After they cast their votes once every few years, the political parties which come to rule or sit in the opposition care mainly about serving the rich who control the purse strings and fund their election campaigns, not about the people who they are supposed to “represent” There is thus an urgent need to think seriously about changing to a system where people actually have power, and in which elected representatives are real servants of the people.