Indian farmers break down barricades to join protesting wrestlers

Dozens of farmers join the athletes in calling for the arrest of the sport’s federation chief, accused of sexual harassment.

Farmers gather at the site of an ongoing protest by Indian wrestlers in New Delhi
Farmers gather at the site of a protest by Indian wrestlers in New Delhi against the wrestling federation leader, who they accuse of sexual harassment [Arun Thakur/AFP]

Dozens of Indian farmers have broken down police barricades in New Delhi to join wrestlers protesting against the sport’s federation chief over allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation.

Several of the wrestlers are from the nearby state of Haryana, a rice-producing area where many people make their living from farming.

The farmers were led by one of the groups behind the protests that had opposed three farm laws passed by parliament in 2020 that loosened rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce.

Farmer leaders Rakesh Tikait and Mehar Singh along with wrestlers Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat speak with the media during wrestlers' protest at Jantar Mantar, on May 7, 2023 in New Delhi, India. Wrestlers resumed their protest against WFI and its President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The protesting wrestlers accused the WFI president of sexually harassing several
Farmer leaders Rakesh Tikait and Mehar Singh along with wrestlers Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat speak with the media in New Delhi [Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images]

The wrestlers, including Olympic medallists and Commonwealth champions, have been demanding an investigation and arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, who is also a parliamentarian from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

They have staged a protest in the centre of New Delhi for more than two weeks.

The wrestlers allege that Singh sexually harassed seven female wrestlers over more than a decade and the police and the government have blocked investigations into their allegations.

Delhi police last month registered two complaints against Singh, who has denied the allegations.

Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella group of protesting farmers, released a statement at the weekend condemning the New Delhi police for denying the athletes “basic civil rights” and backing the calls for Singh’s arrest, adding it would mount nationwide protests this week.

In a video posted on Facebook on Saturday, Singh urged the farmers to wait until investigations were completed.

“If these children are committing a mistake, let them do so,” he said. “My request with folded hands to those who are older is that you should not commit the mistake.”

Source: News Agencies