Bajrang Punia to return Padma Shri award to PM Narendra Modi

"I will not be able to live with myself as a "respectable" wrestler when our fellow women wrestlers have to give up wrestling for their safety", said the Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist

Bajrang Punia (Photo: @DDNewsLive/X )
Bajrang Punia (Photo: @DDNewsLive/X )


Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist Bajrang Punia on Friday decided to return the prestigious Padma Shri award to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a protest after Brij Bhushan Singh's close aide Sanjay Singh was elected as the President of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

A day after teary-eyed Sakshi Malik announced that she was quitting the sport, Bajrang wrote a letter to PM Modi, expressing his disappointment following WFI polls.

In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister, Punia outlined the reasons behind his decision of returning the prestigious award.

The wrestling body row, which had been simmering for a while, reached a tipping point for the athlete. Discontent with the management and administration of the sport he loved, Punia felt compelled to take a stand.

“The government and the people gave so much respect. Should I continue to suffocate under the burden of this respect? In the year 2019, I was awarded Padmashri. Also honored with Khel Ratna and Arjun Award. I was very happy when I received this honour. It seemed that life had been successful. But today I am more unhappy than that and these honors are hurting me. There is only one reason, in wrestling for which we get this honor, our fellow women wrestlers have to give up wrestling for their safety,” wrote Bajrang Punia in a letter.

“We “respectable” wrestlers could not do anything. I will not be able to live my life as "respectable" wrestler after insulting female wrestlers. Such a life will torment me all my life. That's why I am returning this "honor" to you,” the letter read.

On Thursday, 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik announced quitting Wrestling following Sanjay Singh being elected as president of the WFI.

Sakshi removed her shoes and put it on the dais before leaving the press conference in tears here. "I am dejected, and I will not be competing in wrestling anymore," an emotional Sakshi had said.

"In the end, we slept for 40 days on the roads but I’d like to thank the several people of our country who came to support us during the protests earlier this year. If Brij Bhushan Singh’s business partner and a close aide is elected as the president of WFI, I quit wrestling…" Malik told media in a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday.

Soon after the election results were announced, Brij Bhushan, unfazed by the allegations against him, proclaimed the victory as a triumph for the country's wrestlers.

He expressed hope that the wrestling activities, halted for 11 months during the protests, would now resume under the new leadership.

"A message has been given. Every akhaada (wrestling academy) in the country is bursting firecrackers. Dabdabaa tha, dabdabaa rahega! I want to give the credit of victory to the wrestlers of the country and the electors. I want to thank the government as well. The elections were done on the instructions of the Supreme Court... the Centre went ahead to make sure elections happened and a non-partisan person was chosen as president," Brij Bhushan said.

"This 'grahan' (eclipse) of 11 months on wrestling is over. Within 10 days, the landscape of wrestling will change again and we will perform in the Olympics the way people want us to," he added.

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