Wrestlers' stir: Khap panchayats, farmers' unions up the ante in solidarity

Naresh Tikait
Farmer leader Naresh Tikait and other farmer leaders meet Wrestlers Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik during a protest at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi, on Thursday, April 27, 2023. Photo: Wasim Sarvar/IANS

Muzaffarnagar: After declaring solidarity with the ongoing wrestlers' protest against the delay in arresting Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) has convened a 'mahapanchayat' at Sauram village in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar district on Thursday to discuss the way forward.

The wrestlers accuse Singh of sexual assault. They are staging protests demanding strict police action and inquiry into the alleged violations of the wrestling body chief who is also a member of parliament representing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. 

Khap and farmer leaders from UP, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Punjab will be attending the event in Muzaffarnagar. The protesting wrestlers, however, will not attend the mahapanchayat.

Sarv khap (an umbrella body of khaps) secretary Subhash Balyan said, "As many as 365 khaps are there in India; we have informed all of them over phone and also on Facebook. A total of 28 khaps from western UP -- such as Balyan, Deshwal, Rathi, Nirwal, Panwar, Beniwal Hudda, Latian, Ghatian, Ahlawat, etc -- will join the panchayat."

Naresh Tikait, who is also the chief of Balyan khap, said: "If the government wants, this dispute can end immediately. The khaps want Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, BJP MP Bhushan arrested, and the court of law should decide the matter."

On Tuesday, some of the country's top wrestlers -- including Olympic medallists Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, and Asian Games champion Vinesh Phogat -- accompanied by hundreds of supporters had gathered on the banks of the Ganga in Haridwar, threatening to immerse their World and Olympic medals in the holy river, but refrained after khap and farmer leaders convinced them not to do so. The khap leaders have sought five days' time to address their grievances.

Security tightened ahead of SKM protest

Security was tightened at Delhi's border points on Thursday in view of a call for nationwide demonstrations given by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) in support of wrestlers.

Security personnel are maintaining strict vigil at the border points and extra pickets have been put up to prevent any untoward incident, Delhi Police officials said.

"Security has been tightened, extra police personnel have been deployed and we have also set up extra pickets at Delhi's borders. We want to ensure that law and order is maintained and no untoward incident takes place. This has been done as a precautionary measure," a senior police officer said.

Vehicles entering Delhi from neighbouring states are being checked at the borders, he said.

The SKM, an umbrella body of farmers' unions, had on Tuesday called for nationwide protests on June 1 in support of wrestlers who have been demanding the arrest of Singh for allegedly sexually harassing female grapplers, including a minor.

In a statement, the SKM had said its call for demonstrations was aimed at securing the democratic right to protest by the Indian wrestlers and all other sections of society, and to demand the arrest of Singh, who is also a BJP MP.

It said it would coordinate with platforms of trade unions, women, youth, students and all other sections, including intellectuals, to stage demonstrations.

The wrestlers, who had been protesting at Jantar Mantar since April 23 seeking the arrest of Singh, were removed from the site by the Delhi Police on Sunday after they tried to march to the new Parliament building that was inaugurated the same day.

They were detained and later let off.

(With PTI and IANS.)

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