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Continued suppression from Sita to Sakshi amidst claimed righteousness of Sengol

By Dr Mansee Bal Bhargava* 

If you are reading this essay, you may like to Sign the Petition #JusticeForWrestlers!
India (read Indian men as mostly led by men in this patriarchy) is keen to empower its long intimidated and vulnerable women from the time of Sita and Draupadi. However, India is yet to learn and be interested to learn how to deal with the empowered women.
The wrestlers are protesting about the misconduct of the sitting President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) Brijbhushan Sharan Singh (BBSS) and other coaches. They started with appeal to the Union Sports Minister (Anurag Thakur) in January this year with their concern of sexual harassment. 
The protesting wrestles, who are among the most famous sports women of the country including Olympic medallists, Sakshi Malik, the Phogat sisters, and more besides Bajrang Punia have come together to lead the protest. They wrote an open letter to the President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) saying they wanted to “create a safe and secure place” for young wrestlers.
However, the matter was pacified by the Ministry and IOA by forming a committee. After the wrestlers knocked the Supreme Court and started the protest at Jantar Mantar Delhi at the end of April, the pressure from Supreme Court made the Delhi Police file two FIRs on BBSS including a POCSO Act
Since then, it seems the Delhi Police is busy intimidating the protestors more than investigating the matter on BBSS. The worst came to the public domain in the end of May, when the wrestlers while marching towards the new Parliament building (on its inauguration day) were detained by the Delhi Police and brutally handled.
This incident shook the world drawing severe criticism and embarrassment to the state of women in the country. When the wrestlers decided to drop their medals in Ganga, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stepped in asking for transparent investigation. There was a rumour from the godi media that the protest is withdrawn after the wrestlers met the Home Minister and Sports Minister. The wrestlers have clarified that they will not stage protest until June 15th on the pretext of assurance by the ministers and will participate in the forthcoming Asian Games only after the matter is resolved.
Amidst this, when BBSS says that he is innocent and has full faith in the Supreme Court and Delhi Police, common citizens especially women smell some serious dirty stuff happening in the sports, courts, police stations and even the parliament which are badly deprived of women representatives. 
Then, when we hear fresh news coming that the Delhi Police is asking wrestlers for proof of misconduct in the form of photo-audio-video proof, it hits harder to ponder whether Ram Raaj has arrived in India to benefit further the many Aadarsh Purush with multiple charges roaming free in the institutional corridors and the Abla Naari(s) continue to undergo Agnipariksha.

#BetiBachaoBetiPadhao, really?

The #BetiBachaoBetiPadhao by the Ministry of Women & Child Development can be only considered great program if it is wholistically integrating women of all age, class, caste, profession, location, etc. Instead, there seem to be bias/focus on the Kamjor Nabalig and Abla Naari and almost no provision of safeguarding the rights of empowered women. So, then the question arises is why #BetiBachaoBetiPadhao if they cannot be supported/safeguarded after saving their lives and empowering them.
The protesting wo-men wrestlers are indeed a result of the institutional and social efforts of empowering. However, the question is whether the WFI president (and likes) is empowered enough to behave like a gentleman? 
This is where the entire empowerment approach needs rethinking with integrating empowerment of men. We need to focus on making India a country of gentlemen who are morally-socially-physically-institutionally right towards women and not exploiting women through the institutions apart from the legacy of patriarchy.
Until this happens, the empowerment of women towards gender parity and gender justice is just as hollow as the installation of the righteousness of ‘Sengol’ now in the new parliament building while the democracy is systematically choked to death. In this patriarchy, the empowerment business will continue to be a golden stick like Sengol to reign over the women as happening since antiquity including the time of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

From Sita to Sakshi suppression by the system & society

In Ramayana, Sita had to go through Agnipariksha (fire test) after Ram reclaimed her from Ravana for the sake of system (of the rule) and the society. If Sita, being considered the daughter of the earth and the mother of the universe, had to go through character certification since she was away from her husband, why wasn’t Ram made to take agnipariksha as he too was away from his wife? In these empowering times, history should be taken critically.
Unfortunately, in every rape, molestation, violence case, the women are made to suffer all the humiliation of the system and the society, to the extreme for the sins done by the men. The Delhi Police took one of the six wrestlers to the WFI office for ‘scene re-creation’. What non-sense and humiliation!
Women only going through agnipariksha should not be accepted. Instead, amend to naming and shaming the men for the ill treatment of women. Until this happens, the act of empowering of women is half the effort. 
When the residency of BBS is just adjacent to the WFI and yet he is not called for interrogation in the same manner. Why not ask him, despite being a public figure how he manages to be inhuman, brutal, and why not ask him to recreate his insanity.
Despite the agnipariksha, Sita was questioned in front of the entire kingdom and later abandoned by Ram and the Ram Rajya. Today, despite all the hardships these wrestlers have gone through towards their empowerment and then achievement at global platforms, when they are expressing their grievances, the government and the judiciary are abandoning them and declining them justice besides doing every effort to denigrate their protest by calling it false and political.
In Mahabharata, Draupadi was first married to five men Pandavas who callously put her at stake in the game of gamble with the Kauravas. If this was not enough Draupadi had to undergo Cheerharan (equivalent to gang rape in today’s context) by the Kauravas in front of the Pandavas and the entire kingdom. 
More ironic and worth questioning is when Krishna comes to rescue Draupadi, why did he choose offer endless saree instead of stopping the heinous act of Kauravas and yelling at the Pandavas for putting their wife at stake. It can be reflected as both parties were either hopeless or Krishna was clueless. 
The reactions and actions of the government (Sports Minister and Home Minister) by calling for dialogues and buying time are hopelessly political just as the judiciary pretending to be clueless in dealing with the wrestlers’ demand.
The Supreme Court of India pushed the Delhi Police (of the Ministry of Home Affairs) for lodging the complaint of the wrestlers however, the latter is strategically delaying its moves. 
The Apex Court also seems restraining itself from taking a suo moto of the situation despite the fact that the wrestlers are of international repute, that the country’s image is at stake, the careers of the international players are at stake, and importantly that the Delhi Police and the lower courts are just not moving. Is it because the Apex Court is also ‘man’-handled and the case on hand (of wrestlers) is about ‘women’? Since, it is the same Supreme Court that could ready a bail for Arnab overnight.
Why is the POCSO not implemented so far on BBSS? The POCSO Act, June 2012 issued under the Ministry of Women and Child Development calls for Special Court for trial of such matters. But, where is the Minister of Women and Child Development (Smriti Irani)? Why is the Special Court still not set up? Why are the Sports Minister and Home Minister intimidating the wrestlers and now sabotaging the entire protest besides vilifying the protesters through the godi media?
Where is the Prime Minister in all this whereas he is everywhere? He could have walked to the girls on May 28th or walked the girls to the Parliament as a gesture of support to #BetiBachaoBetiPadhao. Instead, while he was lecturing on democratic value in the new parliament building inauguration, the protesting wrestlers were undemocratically inhumanly handled by the Delhi Police.

Supporting the wrestlers for justice

We live in a country where citizens can beat up a couple for expressing love in a public space in the name of love jihad and at the same time just pass by when a husband is stabbing a wife in the name of ‘their’ personal matter. Seeking support from the scared and selfish citizenry may be a dream as well as miracle. 
Yet this time, unlike the citizenry divided in the #ShaheenBag Protest and the #FarmersProtest, there is unrest and angst amongst majority of the people (I interacted) across the party lines and ideology in the country. Many leaders even from the ruling party have called for immediate resolve of the matter.
So, in that sense it is overwhelming that empowered wrestlers have managed to find massive support. Several community organisations (even if politically induced) and some political parties have promised support. More and more organisations are extending their support to the wrestlers' protest as wrestlers have rightfully called for support.
Amidst the protest, the support of the leading sportspersons has been lethargic. The rich fancied cricketers have gone numb with only few, including the 1983 world cup team, coming out in support (big thanks to them) after a month and making diplomatic statement is a sigh of relief. It seems, the sportspersons are only trained to obey rules and not really trained to protest and support protest. 
The cold and clumsy statement by former BCCI President, Saurav Ganguly, is a testament of that. Anyway, more sportspersons have now extended support for the wrestlers’ including star sportspersons like, Sunil Chhetri, Neeraj Chopra, Sania Mirza, Abhinav Bindra, Kapil Dev, etc. which is encouraging, only if that can really convert to actions towards justice for the wrestlers.

The empowered women

It is really ironic to find the mute spectatorship of the two most empowered women of the country at this point in time, the Honourable President of India and the Minister of Women & Child Development. No statement and not meeting the wrestlers by Draupadi Murmu and Smriti Irani are really shocking and saddening. 
Apart from them, yet to hear from other women politicians like, #UmaBharati, #VasundharaRaje, #KiranBedi, #AnandiPatel, #JayaPrada, #HemaMalini; women superstars like #DeepikaPadukone, #PriyankaChopra, #AliaBhatt; and sportswomen like #MaryKom, #MithaliRaj, #JhulanGoswami, #HarmanpreetHaur, etc. Worst is to not hear a line from the Honourable President who could have whipped all the departments to expedite the judicial processes towards justice.
To add to the wrestlers woes is the double standard of PT Usha by the star athlete of the yesteryears and now the President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). When she met the wrestlers, she assured her support and help to get justice, however, later in a press statement she said that the wrestlers' protest on the streets is “tarnishing" India's image and the protest by the elite wrestlers equates to “indiscipline". What happened in between to PT Usha can be explained as, ‘patriarchy at best’.
It hurts when empowered woman like Suman Nalwa, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Delhi call walking to the parliament as violation of law. Under which act is it unlawful to protest and walk to the parliament? In that sacred space of democracy, on the same day a POCSO applied not yet suspended minister walked alongside all the ministers. Is that lawful?
It this act of the Delhi Police (of the Home Ministry) is to intimidate the protesting women; it is also intended to send a direct message to all the ordinary/vulnerable women out there to not dare. It hurts more to see those lower ranked women police officials and constables’ alias ordinary women dragging the wrestlers, the act which they may not be morally accepting to do but are pushed to perform under the guise of duty. I hope the policewomen realise that they are suppose to serve the citizens not the government.
Source: The three empowered women with different roles
As women, if these powerful women cannot rise to the occasion to ensure fast justice process to the wrestlers, it is pity. It is understandable that they have to keep their positions secured which must have been surely achieved after all the struggles for all these years. At the same time, it substantiates that the path to success for the women is deeply dented with doubts of capability, connection and courtship.

Way forward

There are allegations for politicising the protest, but why not politicise the matter? After all, it is a matter of dignity of (empowered) women of the country. If empowered women are unheard and pushed to hardships to prove their righteousness and right to justice, once can imagine the status of really poor-vulnerable women in the country. The ruling part itself is playing politics, starting from forming a committee, not asking BBSS to resign on moral grounds, maligning the image and intent of the protesting wrestlers. 
Otherwise, how is it possible that for five months the women wrestlers’ issue is hanging between police, judiciary, government and politics. It pushes to ask, ‘are seven women manipulating or is one man muscling?’ Answer is, ‘all cruelty springs from weakness’ – Seneca.
The government needs to rethink, who (why) is it they are protecting, a man in power (by citizens virtue) and a powerful man by virtue of support of the government, police and judiciary, one who had tens of cases against him including of murder and molestation. If the government is taking a stand of protecting a long-time criminal, then the government must stop the hollow talking about #BetiBachaoBetiPadhao and #NariShakti.
What we know so far in the #WrestlersProtest, makes most citizens especially the women of the country ponder over the state of affairs and ask themselves and to others, ‘if this happens to empowered women, what happens to ordinary women and them’. The answer is ahead of us, Bilkiss Bano, Hathras, Unnao, and many innumerable matters. A country that is yet to handle its enormous and rising rape matters sensibly and sensitively, registering molestation as a serious matter is farfetched.
The silver lining though in this entire process is that now India (the men) needs to get used to the cocky confident sportspersons(women) unlike the past as women demands for transparency and justice for them and the future generation.
Well neither Sita and Draupadi nor the likes of PT Usha and Smriti Irani had raised their concerns regarding the misconduct of the men of their times. That does not mean that the women of the current times cannot or should not rise against the atrocities of the men in power and powerful men. 
The rise of the young protestors is a new beginning for the empowered women in the country to say ‘no’ to any compromise for becoming success. This is India’s #MeToo movement. Remember, all those youth and girls who will not stand for these wrestlers, no one will stand for them when they will go through any such situations (hope and pray not).
Will the #WrestlersProtest elevate or dissipate? The #WrestlersProtest hopefully will upscale stronger than any protest ever held in the country by the women. The wrestler protestors must take the learning from the #ShaheenBag, #FarmersProtest and even the country’s Independence Movement. The #WrestlersProtest can succeed to upscale if other organisations, celebrities, sportspersons join hands.
More women sportspersons and more women organisations will hold the key to give a mass to the #WrestlersProtest. All sensible organisations, political parties and sensible men have to come out in support of the Women of India. Since, this protest must transcend from just the wrestlers voice being heard, to national policies and programs designed for women being better heard and men being better handled.
There is a scope and hope for the #WrestlersProtest to be redefining the ‘empowering of women’ in the country. And if the #WrestlersProtest can redefine the #2024Election, women may see more participation in the leadership once the closed doors of men favouring the women are pushed to open. Let us wait for June 15 for the first door to open, a door of hope!
---
*Entrepreneur, researcher, educator, speaker, mentor and a keen political observer. Environmental Design Consultants, Ahmedabad and WforW Foundation. www.mansee.in , www.edc/org/in , www.wforw.in

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