Retired wrestler Sakshi Malik has sparked controversy by casting doubt on the support of iconic sportspersons PT Usha and Mary Kom for female wrestlers protesting sexual harassment charges against former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Speaking at the Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters (MBIFL) 2024 in Kerala, Malik expressed disappointment at the lack of backing from Usha and Kom, despite their earlier assurances.
Malik, a celebrated wrestler herself, expressed her dismay during a session at the festival, highlighting the apparent silence of Usha and Kom despite their initial promises of support. She recounted how PT Usha visited the protest venue and listened to the grievances of the female wrestlers. Despite being informed in detail about their issues, Usha did not offer the expected support, which left Malik disheartened.
Similarly, Mary Kom, an acclaimed boxer and member of the oversight committee formed to investigate the sexual harassment allegations against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, also failed to advocate for the aggrieved women wrestlers, according to Malik. Kom, who heard the harrowing stories of each woman wrestler during the panel’s proceedings, initially showed emotional reactions, expressing sorrow and pledging her support. However, despite these assurances, no tangible solutions were forthcoming even after several months had passed, Malik revealed.
The sit-in protest organized by top wrestlers, including Malik, Bajrang Punia, and Vinesh Phogat, aimed at demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over the sexual harassment allegations. The protest gained attention when Punia returned his Padma Shri award in protest against Sanjay Singh, a close associate of Bhushan, being elected as the WFI chief. Malik also decided to step away from wrestling for the same reason, further illustrating the gravity of the situation.
The allegations against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and the subsequent response from various stakeholders have highlighted the challenges faced by women athletes in India. Despite their remarkable achievements and contributions to their respective sports, female athletes often encounter systemic barriers and struggles to secure justice and support when faced with such issues.
The controversy surrounding Usha and Kom’s perceived lack of support underscores the importance of solidarity and advocacy within the sporting community, especially in addressing sensitive issues like sexual harassment. As role models and leaders in their fields, Usha and Kom have a responsibility to stand up for the rights and well-being of fellow athletes, particularly women facing discrimination and injustice.
The Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters, where Malik made her remarks, serves as a platform for dialogue and discussion on various topics, including sports and social issues. Malik’s candid revelations have sparked conversations about the responsibilities of sports icons and the need for collective action to address gender-based discrimination and harassment in sports.
Moving forward, it is essential for all stakeholders, including athletes, sports federations, and policymakers, to work together to create a safe and supportive environment for women in sports. This includes implementing robust mechanisms for reporting and addressing instances of harassment, as well as promoting gender equality and inclusion at all levels of sports administration and governance.
Sakshi Malik’s remarks at the Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters have shed light on the challenges faced by women athletes in India and the importance of solidarity and advocacy within the sporting community. The incident serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggles for gender equality and justice in sports and underscores the need for concerted efforts to address these issues comprehensively.