Wrestlers booked after Delhi Police thwarts protest near new parliament
A group of India's top wrestlers had been holding a sit-in since last month demanding the arrest of sexual assault accused WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh
Wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia along with other protesters were booked for rioting and obstructing public servants in the discharge of their duty on Sunday, after a scuffle with security personnel who tried to stop them from marching to the new parliament building as it was being inaugurated. Soon after, the Delhi Police cleared the site of their over-month-long sit-in at Jantar Mantar and said they would not be allowed to return there.
The police said that 700 people were detained across the national capital. As many as 109 protesters, including the three wrestlers, were detained at Jantar Mantar. Women detainees were released only late in the evening from the various police stations, many quite distant and near the borders of Delhi in a bid to apparently remove them as far from the Central Delhi stage as possible.
Opposition parties slammed the central government over the "manhandling" of wrestlers, who had resumed their agitation against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on April 23 demanding his arrest for alleged sexual harassment of several women grapplers, including a minor.
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said that the "arrogant king is crushing the voice of the people" on the streets as the "coronation" is over and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said it is "shameful our champions are treated in this manner".
Elaborate security measures had been made after the wrestlers' call for a women's 'Mahapanchayat' outside the Parliament for which they did not have permission.
Chaotic scenes were witnessed at the dharna site at Jantar Mantar, barely three kilometres from the new Parliament building that was inaugurated by the prime minister, as protesters and police personnel shoved and pushed each other when the Phogat sisters, Sakshi Malik and others tried to breach the barricades.
Immediately after the wrestlers and other protesters were pushed into buses and taken to different locations, the police personnel began clearing the protest site by removing cots, mattresses, coolers, fans and the tarpaulin ceiling along with other belongings of the wrestlers.
Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Dependra Pathak claimed the protesters ignored repeated requests and warnings and "wrestled" with police personnel who tried to stop them.
Meanwhile, both leaders of various parties and communities in solidarity, and the general public on social media hung their heads in shame over and spoke out over the scenes playing out.
"Today was an important day for the country as the new Parliament building was to be inaugurated and despite warnings and repeatedly urging protesters at Jantar Mantar to not march beyond the protest site, they continued to do so," he said, adding the behaviour of the wrestlers was "highly irresponsible".
"They were out to disturb the preparations made by the security agencies," the senior police officer told PTI.
"The detained protesting wrestlers will not be allowed to continue with their dharna at Jantar Mantar. The entire protest venue at Jantar Mantar has been cleared," Pathak said.
Taking to Twitter, Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik, however, vowed to continue their sit-in at Jantar Mantar.
"Our movement is not over...we will start our satyagraha at Jantar Mantar. In this country, there will be no dictatorship but there will be satyagraha held by women wrestlers," she tweeted in Hindi.
All the female wrestlers who were detained have been released and the male wrestlers will also be released soon, a senior officer said later in the evening.
Vinesh Phogat told PTI, "They (police) have released me, Sakshi (Malik) and Sangeeta (Phogat). The rest are still under detention." The police claimed the wrestlers broke and scaled the barricades, misbehaved and pushed the police personnel including the women constables.
Later, the police filed an FIR against the protesting wrestlers and their supporters.
"The FIR has been registered at Parliament Street police station under New Delhi district against the organisers of the protest, including wrestlers Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sangeeta Phogat, and others who were part of the scuffle that took place at Jantar Mantar today with the police," a senior police officer said.
The FIR has been registered under sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the officer said.
Sections 352 (assault or criminal force otherwise than on grave provocation), 147 (rioting) and 149 (unlawful assembly) of the IPC and Section 3 (mischief causing damage to public property) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act have also been invoked, he said.
Taking to Twitter, Vinesh Phogat said while it took the Delhi Police seven days to register an FIR against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, it didn't even take seven hours to book those who were protesting "peacefully".
Security was heightened near the new Parliament building, at Jantar Mantar as well as at Delhi's borders with neighbouring states and many farmer groups who were planning to join the wrestlers' protest were stopped from entering the national capital.
Several farmer leaders in Haryana were detained for a few hours, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Charuni) claimed.
A group led by BKU leader Rakesh Tikait held a sit-in at the Ghazipur border which was closed as they tried to enter the national capital to take part in a protest called by the agitating wrestlers. The protesters later dispersed.
Samajwadi Party MLA from Sardhana assembly constituency in Meerut Atul Pradhan was detained.
Senior Superintendent of Police Rohit Singh Sajwan said the MLA and 20-25 people were subsequently released. Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Raj Kumar Sangwan and district Congress chief of Meerut Avnish Kajla claimed that they were put under house arrest.
Asked about the police being criticised for the way they handled the situation, Pathak said that they had urged the wrestlers politely to carry out their protest at Jantar Mantar but they started "wrestling" with the police.
He also claimed that no force was used by the police personnel. "They pushed our police personnel including women constables. They engaged in wrestling with our personnel. But we did not use any force. We did not use lathi-charge because they are the pride of our nation." "Instead, to contain the situation and maintain law and order, they were removed from the protest site using body-to-body push," the officer added.
Many opposition parties have criticised authorities for not arresting Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a BJP MP, and have expressed solidarity with the protesting wrestlers. The Delhi Police had filed two FIRs including one under POCSO Act against Singh, who has denied all the charges.
Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule and Left leaders condemned the treatment meted out to the protesting wrestlers.
"It's shameful our champions are treated in this manner. Democracy lies in tolerance but autocratic forces thrive on intolerance and quelling of dissent. I demand they be immediately released by the police. I stand by our wrestlers," Banerjee said.
Attacking the government, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said, "The arrogance of the BJP government has increased so much that it is mercilessly trampling the voices of our women players under its boots. This is totally wrong," the Congress general secretary said.
With PTI inputs