India's top-most wrestlers on Tuesday stepped up their protest against official inaction over their complaints by appealing directly to prime minister Narendra Modi and the minister in his cabinet in charge of women's affairs.
In a series of sharply worded and emotional comments, they questioned Modi's silence especially in light of the well-publicised women-centric schemes launched by his government.
"PM Modi sir talks about 'Beti Bachao' and 'BetiPadhao', and listens to everyone's 'Mann Ki Baat'. Can't he listen to our 'mann ki baat'?", Rio Games bronze medallist Sakshi Malik asked in a media interaction with PTI. "He invites us to his home when we win medals and gives us a lot of respect and calls us his daughters. Today, we appeal to him that he listens to our 'Mann Ki Baat'." The reference is to the prime minister's monthly radio and television address, which hit 100 episodes last week.
Vinesh Phogat echoed her sentiment: "He does his program 'Mann ki Baat' but has he even for a minute given a thought to our mann ki baat, how much dilemma does he think we face that daughters of the nation are sitting on the roads and are on the cusp of quitting wrestling by standing against a big criminal?"
"We don't have the (telephone) numbers (of relevant people) by which we can reach out to him so we are appealing to PM Modi through the media. Maybe he can then listen to your cries. Our souls are almost dead, maybe he will see."
Bajrang Punia, the Tokyo Games bronze medallist, also appealed to the prime minister. "These are daughters of India appealing to you, please do justice with them," he said. "We had brought wrestling mats for practice but we were not allowed, we can't even prepare our food here because there is no permission. Now, will we have to take permission even for breathing.".
Sakshi Malik also mentioned the inaction of Smritii Irani, the minister in Modi's cabinet for women and child development. "I want to ask Smriti Irani, why is she silent now? It's been four days that we are sleeping on road, enduring mosquito bites. We are not being allowed (by Delhi Police) to prepare food and train, why are you silent? I just want to say that you come here, listen to us and support us."
As athletes, we train hard every day to represent our country on the international stage. It is deeply concerning to see our athletes finding it necessary to protest on the streets regarding the allegations of harassment in the Indian wrestling administration. My heart goes out...
- Abhinav A. Bindra OLY (@Abhinav_Bindra) April 26, 2023
The wrestlers also sought time from Modi to discuss the sexual harassment allegations they have levelled against the WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is an MP of his party, the BJP.
In another development, Abhinav Bindra, currently a member of the IOC athletes' commission, tweeted about the issue for the first time, one of the few top sports personalities to openly back the wrestlers. "It is deeply concerning to see our athletes finding it necessary to protest on the streets regarding the allegations of harassment in the Indian wrestling administration", Bindra tweeted.
The wrestlers resumed their agitation against the wrestling federation's chief on Sunday, three months after they ended their sit-in protest following the formation of an oversight committee to probe into the serious allegations.
On Monday, they filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking the registration of an FIR against the WFI president; they had filed a complaint with the police last week but their allegation is that the police is dragging its feet on the investigation. The court is due to hear the case on Friday.
The Sports Ministry has not yet made public the findings of six-member oversight panel that submitted its report on April 5.