New Delhi: In a shocking move, star wrestler Vinesh Phogat announced on Tuesday that she will return her Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjuna Awards to the government in protest against the election of Sanjay Singh as the new president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). ¹² Phogat, who is the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold medals at both the Commonwealth and Asian Games, took to social media to express her anguish and disappointment over the state of affairs in the WFI.
Phogat posted a picture of her medals and certificates on Twitter and Instagram, along with a caption that read, “I am returning my Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjun Award. Many thanks to the Almighty for bringing me to this condition.” She also shared a copy of a letter that she wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in which she poured her heart out about the plight of women wrestlers in the country.
In the letter, Phogat mentioned her fellow Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, who have also taken drastic steps to voice their dissent against the WFI. She wrote, “Honorable Prime Minister, Sakshi Malik has given up wrestling and Bajrang Punia has returned his Padma Shri. The whole country knows why the players who won Olympic medals for the country were forced to do all this and you are the head of the country, so this matter must have reached you too. Prime Minister, I am Vinesh Phogat, the daughter of your house and I am writing this letter to you to tell you about the condition I have been in for the last year.”
Phogat recalled how Sakshi Malik was made the brand ambassador of the “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” campaign by the government in 2016 after she won a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. She said that the women wrestlers felt proud and happy at that time, but now they feel betrayed and humiliated by the WFI. She accused former WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and his close aide Sanjay Singh of sexually harassing and exploiting the women wrestlers and using derogatory and abusive language against them.
Phogat said that she had met the Prime Minister and told him about the ordeal of the women wrestlers, but nothing changed. She said that she and other wrestlers have been protesting on the streets for the last year, but no one is taking care of them. She said that her medals and awards are priceless to her, but she has no option but to return them as a mark of protest. She asked the Prime Minister whether they were traitors for raising their voices for justice.
Phogat’s decision comes after Bajrang Punia, who won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, returned his Padma Shri award on Friday, and placed it on the footpath in front of the Prime Minister’s residence. Punia was protesting against the election of Sanjay Singh as the WFI president, who he alleged was involved in corruption and nepotism. Sakshi Malik, who won a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics, announced her retirement from wrestling on Thursday after Sanjay Singh became the WFI president. She said that she was fed up with the harassment and discrimination that she faced from the WFI.
The WFI was suspended by the Sports Ministry on Sunday, for violating the National Sports Code and holding elections without the approval of the government. ¹¹ The ministry has also asked the WFI to conduct fresh elections within three months and ensure that the candidates are free from any criminal charges or conflict of interest. The WFI has challenged the suspension in the Delhi High Court and claimed that the elections were fair and transparent.