The magnificent fight

The Delhi Police detains the wrestlers Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, as they lead a protest march from Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to the new parliament building, on 28 May 2023. The police also dismantled the wrestlers’ protest site that day, and lodged first information reports against them. Salman Ali / Hindustan Times

In all good stories, there is that which is said and that which is left unsaid. There is what is said, in sound bites and police investigations and court orders. All of it casting shadows of what is unsaid—the distortion of truth, the unfairness of the system, the cynical politics of the day. This is especially true about stories of epic battles, of the heroic and unequal fights between straight shooters, with nothing but their courage, against fabulists armed with lies as well as the power of the state. In January this year, began such a tale that pitted raw courage against the brutal state, setting the stage for a battle as archetypical as David’s battle against Goliath. The sisterhood of wrestlers have had to move mountains, just to be heard. 

For six months, we have been at a standoff between Brij Bhushan Singh, a Bharatiya Janata Party politician from Ayodhya, and wrestlers demanding action against him, for using his position as the chief of the wrestling federation to prey on girls. This battle is not simply a cycle of resistance; it is, of course, that, but it is also, undeniably, a display of the fundamental relationship between Indian women and the state.  

Imagine someone pouring a bag of rice on the floor and asking you to pick up every grain. Then imagine if, every time you spoke up about the injustice, another bag of rice was poured out and you were asked pick each grain up, again. That is the relationship between women and India’s superstructures: the courts, the police stations and the government. Between the what-aboutery and victim blaming and gaslighting, there is a method to the madness. It raises profound questions about what makes sexual violence acceptable in India? That there is no evidence? Or that a powerful man can get away with it? Or that the religion of the perpetrator is the only thing of importance?  

On 28 May, the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new Parliament building, the wrestlers were manhandled and detained by the Delhi Police. Their protest site at Jantar Mantar was dismantled. The next day, cases were filed against them. Singh attended the inauguration despite the accusations of sexual harassment, stalking and intimidation. The case against him under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act has now been dropped.  Meanwhile, immense suffering was wrought on the women involved, in the name of due process, including having to revisit and recreate the crime scene for the Delhi Police, which also demanded further evidence in the form of videos and photos. Perhaps, Indian news anchors, mostly men, would find this due process alarming if the police demanded so much evidence from men when their cars get stolen. For now, they do not.