It is possibly for the first time in the history of Indian sports that Olympic medal winners are on the streets in protest against poor governance, financial irregularities and alleged sexual exploitation – more specifically in wrestling. Instead of applauding their courage and responsibility, the protesting athletes have faced hostility, defamation and outright condemnation by those in power.
The protest and mobilization against sexual harassment has exposed the deep malaise in the body politic of sports as well as Indian democracy. More than anything else, it has shown how the criminal justice system has been corrupted by years of political manipulation and the law has become a tool of oppression rather than an instrument for justice.
When the wrestlers first sat in protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar in January, they had thought that as the country’s top sporting figures, their voices would be heard, that it would give visibility to the issues that had troubled them for so long.
Already, there is an assumption that the voices of ordinary people, especially women, will not be heard unless backed by some authority.
Vinesh Phogat is the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold medals in both the Commonwealth and Asian Game.