Time to make wrestling a safe place for women in India: Anita Sheoran

Former Commonwealth Games champion in two-way battle with Brij Bhushan’s aide for WFI presidency

Former Commonwealth Games champion Anita Sheoran (photo: @anitasheoran_wrestler/X)
Former Commonwealth Games champion Anita Sheoran (photo: @anitasheoran_wrestler/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The much-delayed elections of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) in the Indian Olympic Association office in Delhi on Thursday, 21 December, is the most significant one vis-à-vis other sports bodies. If the usual bone of contention elsewhere is anti-incumbency or corruption — it’s about making wrestling a safer place for women in India here. 

This is how Anita Sheoran, the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist wrestler who is pitted in a two-way contest for presidency against Sanjay Kumar Singh – a close aide of the tainted former chief Brij Bhushan Singh – sees it. ‘’My biggest agenda is to make wrestling arena a safe place for women in India. Enough is enough,’’ said the 39-year-old mother of one. 

Speaking to National Herald amid her busy schedule from the capital, Anita seemed strong on her intent, even if her pre-election rhetoric lacked drama. ‘’In my two decade career in wrestling, I have seen the girls suffer a lot. If you look at the national federations in India, you will also find very few women in administrative positions — it’s precisely what has motivated me in this fight,’’ Anita said. 

The wrestlers’ agitation had been a major talking point in what had been quite a profitable year in Indian sports as Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat started their agitation near Jantar Mantar in January seeking the removal of Brij Bhushan Singh, a powerful BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh and the erstwhile WFI president on allegations of sexual harassment of a series of female wrestlers. 

The Delhi Police filed a chargesheet against him in July and Brij Bhushan was eventually removed, but Sanjay Kumar Singh, who was a vice-president of the UP wrestling body, is perceived as a proxy candidate for the tainted former WFI supremo. 

Backed by the wrestling stars who were the face of a protracted protest, Anita is aware that any election is more a numbers game rather than a battle of principles. Of the 50 associations whose presidents and secretaries have the voting rights, the powerful Haryana Wrestling Association (where Anita comes from) is not being allowed to vote owing to a court case, reducing the electorate to 49 affiliated members.

Brij Bhushan, a long serving MP from Kaisergunj of UP, has enjoyed political immunity and unless the powers that be will it, the elections can only go one way. 

"I am representing the players. I am aware that my opponent Sanjay Singh may get the blessings of the ruling party, but I appeal to their good sense  so that they don’t try to manipulate the state associations on their voting choice. The voters who also are aware of Brij Bhushan’s corruption must use their good sense and vote for reforms," said Anita, a police inspector by profession.

Is it her profession which egged her on to take up her biggest challenge away from the mat? ‘’You can say that as I can’t stand any wrong, this is why I am also a witness in the case filed against Brij Bhushan. I have received tremendous support in this campaign from my husband Naveen Kumar, a swimming coach with the Haryana Sports Council, my parents and my in-laws,’’ an upbeat Anita added. 

Elections will be held for the posts of president, senior vice-president, vice-president (four), secretary-general, treasurer, joint secretary (two) and executive committee members (five).  

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines