Vinesh Phogat To Return Khel Ratna, Arjuna Awards

Vinesh Phogat, the third top wrestler who was part of the protests against former Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, has announced that she will return her Khel Ratna and Arjuna Awards.

Vinesh Phogat To Return Khel Ratna, Arjuna Awards

Less than a week after Sakshee Malikkh announced her retirement from wrestling and Bajrang Punia returned his Padma Shri, Vinesh Phogat, the third top wrestler who was part of the protests against former Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, has announced that she will return her Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award.

Brij Bhushan, a BJP MP, had been accused of sexual harassment by many women wrestlers, and Ms Malikkh, Mr Punia and Ms Phogat had been at the forefront of the protests against him.

The wrestlers' decisions have been taken in quick succession in a span of six days since a panel led by Sanjay Singh, a close aide of Brij Bhushan, won the elections to the Wrestling Federation of India by a landslide on Thursday, indicating a continuity of leadership in the body. The panel was suspended by the sports ministry on Sunday.

In an emotional open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, Ms Phogat, who has won gold medals at both the Commonwealth and Asian Games, asked whether women wrestlers were made only to grace government advertisements and said she is returning the Khel Ratna - the country's highest sporting honour - and Arjuna Award so that they don't become a "burden on the path of living with dignity".

Ms Phogat has also said that the wrestlers were considered the country's pride when they won medals, but are now being labelled traitors because they spoke out for justice. "Prime Minister, I want to ask you, are we traitors?" she wrote.

'Daughter Of Your House'

In the letter, written in Hindi, Ms Phogat says, "Sakshee Malikkh has quit wrestling and Bajrang Punia has returned his Padma Shri. The whole country knows why the players who won Olympic medals for the country were forced to do all this; and you are the head of the country, so this matter must have reached you too. Prime Minister, I am Vinesh Phogat, a daughter of your house and I am writing this letter to you to tell you about the condition I have been in for the past year."

"I remember the year 2016, when Sakshee Malikkh won a medal in the Olympics, your government named her the brand ambassador of 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao'. When this was announced, all the women players of the country were happy and were sending congratulatory messages to each other. Today, ever since Sakshi had to leave wrestling, I am remembering that year again and again. Are we women players made only to appear on government advertisements," she asked.

Stating that winning an Olympics medal is her dream, which is now fading, she said that the lives of women wrestlers are nothing like the "fancy advertisements". 

Referring to Brij Bhushan's remark after the wrestling body elections that his dominance would continue, Ms Phogat exhorted the Prime Minister to spare five minutes to listen to the former WFI chief's comments. She alleged that the "exploiter" Brij Bhushan had admitted on television that he had made women wrestlers uncomfortable and had utilised every opportunity to humiliate them.

'Called Traitors'

The Commonwealth Games gold medallist said the wrestlers had been struggling on the streets for a year but were still waiting for justice. 

"When we won medals for the country, the whole country considered us its pride. Now that we raised our voice for justice, we are being called traitors. Prime Minister, I want to ask you, are we traitors," she asked.

The wrestler, who broke out in tears at a press conference after the results of the WFI election on Thursday, said no mother would like to see her daughter in the condition she finds herself in. 

Ms Phogat said she was ecstatic when she received the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and the Arjuna Award. "But now I want to get rid of the image of Vinesh receiving the award, because that was a dream and what is happening with us now is the reality," she wrote. 

Stating that the awards have no meaning in her life now, the wrestler said, "Every woman wants to live life with respect. Thus, Prime Minister sir, I want to return my Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award to you so that these awards do not become a burden on us in the path of living with dignity."