Amid chaotic scenes, police detain wrestlers, clear protest site, lodge FIRs

Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Sangeeta Phogat struggle as they are detained by the police while attempting to march to India's new parliament, during a protest against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Singh. ARUN THAKUR/AFP via Getty Images

India's top wrestlers were detained and their month-long protest broken up by Delhi Police amid unprecedented scenes on Sunday morning.

Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, both Olympic medalists, and Vinesh Phogat, a World Championship medalist, were among those forcefully lifted from the protest site into police vans as officials sought to implement a security lockdown in the centre of the national capital.

The women wrestlers were released in the evening, but the Delhi Police has filed an FIR against them and others who participated in the protest.

The FIR 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), 332 (Voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 352 (assault or criminal force otherwise than on grave provocation), 147 (rioting) and 149 (Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence commit­ted in prosecution of common object) of the Indian Penal Code and section 3 in the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.

"Welcome to the new country", Vinesh told reporters from the window of the police vehicle. She had put up an especially spirited fight and it needed almost a dozen police staff to carry her away and into custody.

The security clampdown was due to the opening of the new parliament building by the prime minister on Sunday. The wrestlers had organised a "mahila mahapanchayat" (women's summit meeting) at the same time outside the parliament complex.

Ironically, the chaotic scenes were just a stone's throw from the official residence of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, member of parliament and the former head of the Wrestling Federation of India, whose arrest on charges of sexual assault (including that of a minor) the wrestlers have been demanding since the protests began in January.

Immediately after the wrestlers were pushed into buses and taken to different locations, the police officers began clearing the protest site by removing the cots, mattresses, coolers, fans and the tarpaulin ceiling along with other belongings of the grapplers.

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. He said an FIR will be filed against the protesters.

"They were out to disturb the preparations made by security agencies," he 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 added.

Sakshi though asserted that their protest is not yet over. "Our protest is not over yet. We will resume our agitation at Jantar Mantar after being released by police. This country will not accept dictatorship but women's satyagrah," Malik tweeted.

"Never thought a day will come when we will have to fight on streets for justice after fighting on the mat for medals. This country's daughters are strong, if they can win medals on foreign soil, then definitely they will not stop until the battle on the home soil is won," Malik wrote in another tweet and posted contrasting videos of her Olympic medal ceremony and Sunday's scuffle with police.

Punia, while still in detention, tweeted, "I am still in police custody. No one is telling me what's happening. Have I committed any crime? It should be Brij Bhushan who should be in police custody not us." The police had warned the wrestlers not to move towards the Parliament but they went ahead, leading to the scuffle.

Earlier, the Delhi Police had beefed up security at Jantar Mantar following the protesting wrestlers' call for a 'Mahila Samman Mahapanchayat' before the new Parliament Building on Sunday. Thousands of police personnel were deployed and multiple layers of barricades were in place. The wrestlers, staging a sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar which is about two kilometres from the Parliament building, had said they would go ahead with their 'Mahapanchayat' at any cost.

The wrestlers breached the security cordon during their protest march, upon which chaotic scenes commenced, with the wrestlers resisting and eventually being dragged and lifted into police vehicles.

Later, a teary-eyed Vinesh, said "The accused is roaming free. He is being given shelter by the government and athletes who won medals for the country are now being put in jail for demanding justice for country's daughters."

Bajrang Punia also felt a grave injustice was being meted out to them for demanding justice, saying "The accused has such audacity that he is talking about changing the POCSO Act and you are doing nothing against him and here are athletes who are demanding justice with folded hands and you are ill-treating them. Over 2000 of our supporters were detained. Everywhere dictatorship is going on."

Later, he tweeted, "Does any government treat the champions of the country like this? What crime have we committed?"

Sakshi Malik also took to twitter to vent out her anger against the government and the Delhi Police.

"This is how our champions are being treated. The world is watching us! Sexual abuser goon Brij Bhushan is sitting in the Parliament today and we are being dragged on the road. Sad day for Indian sports," the Olympic medallist wrote.

"Was it a crime to bring medals for the country? if yes, then hang us," she added.

Earlier in the day, Pathak urged the wrestlers to not indulge in anti-national activities on the "historic day" of inauguration of the new Parliament building by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"Today is the inauguration of our new Parliament. It is an important day for our country and proud moment. So any type of agitation or march on this day is anti-national. No way Delhi Policy can afford any lapse. We respect and love our athletes but can't allow any untoward incident," he said.

The protesting wrestlers and their supporters have been taken to different locations in the national capital. While Bajrang has been detained at a police station near Mayur Vihar, Sakshi is in Burari. Vinesh and Sangeeta were taken to Kalkaji.

(With inputs from PTI)