Since t May 4, India’s Olympic-winning female wrestlers are on the ground at Jantar Mantar protesting against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Singh. The allegations against him and the federation are systematic harassment of female wrestlers and corruption. The protests first started in January this year and were withdrawn after assurances from the central government that they would investigate the allegations against Brij Bhushan Singh. However, justice was not done. The oversight committee that was formed did not make its report public, and though the WFI chief was stripped of administrative power, no charges were filed against him. The wrestlers were once more compelled to take to the streets to demand the immediate arrest of the WFI chief.
The protests highlight the entrenched sexism in the administration of the Modi government, as well as institutionalized corruption within the management of sports in India, which has always been a problem for which India continues to lag behind. A nation of nearly a billion and a half people could not even compare to New Zealand, which is no bigger than an Indian state by area, and barely larger than the city of Mumbai by population, when it came to Olympic rankings. It is in this context that India’s prize-winning athletes are now on the streets.
Crossroads of corruption and sexism
The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party or India People’s Party) came to power in 2014, and in the three years leading to this tectonic shift in Indian politics, the country saw two major mobilizations. The first in 2011 was against corruption and led by Arvind Kejriwal, which would become the basis of the foundation of the Aam Admi Party, which presently rules in Punjab and Delhi (NCT). The second was the agitation against rape in Delhi in 2012 and 2013.
Both these mobilizations were pitted against the then-incumbent Congress led by the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government. The BJP was quick to capitalize on both, without having any real alternative to the UPA leadership, in order to turn the agenda into a political attack on the government of the time, which was neck-deep in corruption and could not secure the safety of India’s women. The issues both these mobilizations raised remained unresolved.
Today under the BJP, institutionalized corruption is as bad or worse than it was under the Congress. The condition of women has not improved either. On the contrary, the BJP in power has encouraged a cultural reaction which has seen a rise in toxic masculinity and sexism across the board. Among the BJP’s many decisions, one of them was to abolish women’s studies in universities. The exploitation of women workers is clear from the case of the still-struggling Anganwadi (healthcare) workers under the ASHA scheme.
At the same time, the BJP has made haste to take over every administrative office and institution of governance under its power, and the realm of sports is not immune to this power grab. The combination of the BJP’s inherently reactionary culture towards women, combined with its greed for power and corruption, has brought us to this point where the Wrestling Federation of India is being administered by a corrupt and sexist BJP politician like Brij Bhushan Singh.
The problem of sports in India
Aside from cricket and old accolades in hockey, India has barely made a mark in the world of sports. When it comes to the Olympics, India remains an underperforming country that has barely figured in the ranks, while neighboring China repeatedly shines in the games. The problem of India’s sports performance is not new, and it is a direct result of bureaucratic control over India’s sporting institutions and the unique institutionalized corruption that exists in India. These have combined to create conditions where India is hobbled when it comes to shining in sports.
At the same time, India has always lacked a sporting culture. Save certain exceptions, sports is not a part of the schooling curriculum, nor is a career in sports considered with respect. Beyond cricket, there is barely any investment in sporting, and whatever investment does come in to other sports becomes bogged in commercial interests, which in turn feed the very corruption that has stymied the development of sports in India in the first place.
The condition of India’s athletes are highlighted by these protests. Wrestlers who have won India Olympic medals have to sleep on the street to demand justice where the government has failed them.
We support the wrestlers protest
Many opposition parties in India today have cynically extended their support to the wrestler’s protest. Regional parties and the Congress, all of whom are steeped in the same sexism and corruption which has caused this protest to happen in the first place, have suddenly found an issue over which to combat the BJP. Their support is based on cynical political calculations. Had it been a Congress government in power, and the roles were reversed with Brij Bhushan Singh as a Congress politician in charge of the Wrestling Federation of India, the BJP would have been on the streets pretending to support the wrestlers.
We don’t play such cynical political games, our support is founded in our principled stand against corruption, sexism, and male chauvinism, all of which converge to victimize the wrestlers today.
ACCOUNTABILITY IN ALL INSTITUTIONS !
DEMOCRATIC CONTROL OVER SPORT INSTITUTIONS !
DOWN WITH SEXISM !
ARREST BRIJ BHUSHAN SINGH