Wrestler Bajrang Punia Returns Padma Shri Award in Protest

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New Delhi, 22nd December 2023: Renowned wrestler Bajrang Punia has taken a bold stand by publicly announcing the return of his Padma Shri award, expressing his discontent with the recent developments within the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, shared on social media, Punia highlighted his opposition to the victory of Sanjay Singh, a close associate of Brij Bhushan, in the WFI elections.


Punia’s attempt to personally return the award at the Prime Minister’s residence was met with denial, prompting him to leave it on the footpath outside. The wrestler, who received the Padma Shri in 2019, referred to himself as a ‘disrespected wrestler’ and emphasized his inability to lead a respectable life after the alleged mistreatment of female wrestlers within the federation.


In the letter to the Prime Minister, Punia drew attention to the serious allegations of sexual harassment made by female wrestlers against Brij Bhushan Singh earlier this year. The wrestler, along with others, had joined the movement in January, demanding concrete action against the accused.


Despite assurances from the government, Punia lamented the lack of progress in the case, leading to the wrestlers taking to the streets in April to protest the absence of an FIR against Brij Bhushan. The number of complainant women wrestlers decreased from 19 to 7 during this period, raising concerns about the alleged influence and pressure on the aggrieved parties.


Punia revealed that the movement, lasting 40 days, faced challenges such as vandalism of the protest site, expulsion from Delhi, and a ban on their demonstration. The Home Minister had assured support for justice, leading the wrestlers to temporarily suspend their protest.


However, the recent election results of the Wrestling Association, where Brij Bhushan retained control, have reignited the controversy. Sanjay Singh’s election as president, with a symbolic garland around Brij Bhushan’s neck, has sparked further criticism. Punia, in his letter, expressed disappointment in the reassertion of dominance by the accused.


Under the mental pressure resulting from these events, Olympic medalist Sakshi Malik retired from wrestling, marking a poignant moment for the athletes. Punia, reflecting on the honors bestowed upon him, stated that the respect he received now felt burdensome, given the sacrifices made by fellow women wrestlers for their safety.


The wrestling community awaits responses from the government and the Wrestling Federation of India as the controversy continues to unfold.