Sakshi Malik, the face of wrestler protests in India, announces retirement after election of new chief

Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, who’d been the face of the protests earlier this year for investigations into the allegations of sexual harassment of female wrestlers by BJP MP Brij Bhushan, expressed their disappointment.


Wrestler's Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat break down during a press conference as wrestler Bajrang Punia looks on, in New Delhi on December 21, 2023. PHOTO: ANI/ THE STATESMAN

December 22, 2023

NEW DELHIUpset at the election of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s close aide Sanjay Singh as the new president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik announced her decision to “quit wrestling”.

Sanjay Singh, a long-time aide of Brij Bhushan, won 40 out of 47 votes. Commonwealth Games gold medallist Anita Sheoran, the protesting wrestlers’ choice for the post of WFI president, got just seven votes. Prem Chand Lochab, who was from the opposing faction seemingly supported by the protesting wrestlers, was elected as the secretary-general.

Shortly after the results were declared, Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, who’d been the face of the wrestler protests earlier this year in the national capital for investigations into the allegations of sexual harassment of female wrestlers by multiple-time BJP MP Brij Bhushan, expressed their disappointment, with Malik going all out by announcing her retirement as a mark of protest of the result.

“Yeh ladai dil se ladi (We fought this battle with our heart). In the end, we slept for 40 days on the roads but I’d like to thank the several people of our country who came to support us during the protests earlier this year. If Brij Bhushan Singh’s business partner and a close aide is elected as the president of WFI, I quit wrestling…” Malik told the media on Thursday before walking out in tears with those present at the venue appealing her to reconsider her decision.

Commonwealth and Asian Games Gold medallist Vinesh Phogat said that the future of wrestling is dark after the outcome of the polls. “Now that Sanjay Singh has been elected chief of the federation, women wrestlers will continue to face harassment. The future of our wrestling career is in the dark. We do not know where to go,” she said while adding that she has “no clue how to find justice in the country.”

Bajrang, who returned with a bronze from the Tokyo Games, was also visibly upset with the outcome, and said, “We are not linked to any party, we did not come here for politics. We were fighting for truth, but today an aide of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh has become the WFI president.”

The process for the WFI election began in July, but court cases kept delaying it. This led to the international wrestling body suspending the WFI. The Supreme Court recently set aside a stay imposed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, clearing the decks for the polls.

Following his victory in the WFI polls, Sanjay Singh termed it a win of truth over lies. “They levelled such allegations against a person whose character does not have a place for those traits,” he said while downplaying concerns of a section of wrestlers.

“There will be no injustice against any woman wrestler,” the newly-elected WFI president said.

scroll to top