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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Deaflympics gold winner to return Padma Shri in protest over Brij Bhushan's aide becoming WFI chief

'The PM, Vice-President and President all should come and answer why this happened…. This raises a lot of questions on the justice system and democratic structure'

Imran Ahmed Siddiqui New Delhi Published 24.12.23, 05:01 AM
(L-R) Sakshi Malik announces her retirement from wrestling on Thursday; Bajrang Punia puts down his Padma Shri medal on the road in New Delhi on Friday.

(L-R) Sakshi Malik announces her retirement from wrestling on Thursday; Bajrang Punia puts down his Padma Shri medal on the road in New Delhi on Friday. PTI pictures

Deaflympics gold medallist Virender Singh Yadav, known as Goonga Pehlwan, on Saturday said he would also return his Padma Shri in solidarity with the country’s top wrestlers who have protested the election of Sanjay Singh, an alleged loyalist of BJP parliamentarian and sexual harassment accused Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, as the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

A tearful Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik had on Thursday said she was quitting wrestling soon after Sanjay Singh’s victory in the recent WFI polls.

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On Friday, Bajrang Punia, another Olympic wrestling medallist, said he was returning his Padma Shri in protest against Sanjay Singh’s election.

Virender took to social media on Saturday to announce his decision. “I will also return the Padma Shri for my sister and the country’s daughter. Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji, I am proud of your daughter and my sister Sakshi Malik,” Virender posted on X on Saturday.

He also urged iconic sportsmen such as Sachin Tendulkar and Neeraj Chopra to give their opinion on the issue.

“I would also request the top players of the country to also give their decision,” Virender said in his post, tagging Tendulkar and Olympic champion javelin thrower Chopra.

Virender had received the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth-highest civilian
award, in 2021. He was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2015.

Expressing his solidarity with Malik, Virender had on Friday said: “The parents of the daughters would be concerned that if an Olympic medalist is not given justice, how will we get it? The PM, Vice-President and President all should come and answer why this happened…. This raises a lot of questions on the justice system and democratic structure.”

On Friday, Punia wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying he was returning his Padma Shri. After posting the letter on X, Punia reached Kartavya
Path (Rajpath) and kept the Padma Shri medallion on a footpath there after being disallowed from going to Parliament to meet Modi. Later, police picked up both the letter and the medal.

Several top wrestlers had protested at Jantar Mantar for weeks earlier this year against Brij Bhushan, then WFI chief, accusing him of sexually harassing women wrestlers. After the protest was forcibly broken up by Delhi police, some of them had travelled to Haridwar to toss their medals into the Ganga but were dissuaded by farmer leaders.

Punia’s open letter to Modi, written in Hindi, said: “I can’t live my life as a Padma Shri awardee while our women wrestlers are insulted. Hence I return this award to you.”

“Sports have empowered our women athletes and changed their lives but the situation is such that the women who could have been the brand ambassadors of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao are now leaving the sport. And we, the wrestlers who were awarded, could not do anything,” the letter added.

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