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'Many Brij Bhushans Around Us': Mahila Panchayat Backs Wrestlers, Demand Reform

12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

"What is happening is shocking. The public at large should send a no-tolerance message against this. People need to come out and fight because people make governments. It seems that even Modi sahab is scared of the accused and he is directing the investigation," Vinay Bharadwaj, a retired Delhi University professor who has been associated with women's movements for over four decades now, told The Quint on Wednesday, 14 June. She was speaking at a Mahila Panchayat organised by several women's collectives at the Constitution Club of India in Delhi.

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

The Panchayat was held to show solidarity with the wrestlers who have been protesting against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Member of Parliament Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh who has been accused of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Bharadwaj, while speaking to The Quint, said that the women's organisations didn't just want the wrestlers to know that they are not alone, but also wanted to add their strength to the wrestlers' demands. 

(In Photo: Vinay Bharadwaj)

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

But solidarity and demanding justice aren't the only reasons these women were there. Abirami Jotheeswaran, who is associated with the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, told The Quint, "The situation for all women is concerning with grave threats. It's not a small fight, it's against the system and the state."

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

Bhasha, a writer and journalist who is associated with multiple women's organisations, concurs. She firmly believes that the "political impunity" Singh is enjoying is a "threat to our country and to women’s safety."

But more than that, what brings her to the Panchayat is the belief that "our country needs to be run by the Constitution and not the Manusmriti or the BJP's agendas."

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

Maya John, a professor at the University of Delhi who is also associated with the Centre for Struggling Women, asserted that this Mahila Panchayat is a response to the Mahila Mahapanchayat that was supposed to happen on 28 May, when several women were detained for simply standing with the wrestlers.

(In Photo: Maya John)

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

These women's collectives are also unhappy with the way Singh has been "shielded from inquiry" up until now. Bharadwaj feels that he's been behaving like a "medieval Sultan."

"What is 'I'll hang myself? I haven't done anything'. Let the law take its course," Bharadwaj said. 

Annie Raja, the general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, feels Delhi Police is also culpable. She said, "The way Delhi Police is dealing with this case and the slow pace of the investigation shows that they are not for justice for the complainants, but that they stand with the accused."

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

There's also a culture of impunity for criminals, these women believe. Jotheeswaran said that "we've already seen a case like Hathras where the might of the state meant that even when the chargesheet mentioned rape and atrocities under the SC/ST Act, the conviction is only for culpable homicide. The case against Singh shows just how much influence can protect you."

(In Photo: Annie Raja, second from right)

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

For Bhasha, what is even more shocking is that when the government proclaims to protect the honour and safeguard Hindu women, "why hasn't it done anything for these wrestlers so far?"

(In Photo: Bhasha)

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

But what does it take to fight against authorities and agencies? Where do these groups derive their strength from? Everyone The Quint spoke to had a different answer for this.

For Bharadwaj, the strength to fight comes from hope and the core belief that governments that come and go can't change our robust Constitution. 

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

For Raja, this is a question of dignity for all women. She said, "We're seeing the topmost sportspersons of the country who've been our pride be treated like this. If we fail, this is the end of women's dignity and self-respect, because this case will become a precedent."

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

For Jotheeswaran, it's actually the fear of losing confidence in the judicial system that gives her the strength to fight everyday. "If there is not a free and fair justice system, we lose hope, we lose confidence, the battle becomes more difficult for each one of us. By seeing this case, people who would've faced this kind of harassment will become even more silent as survivors."

(In Photo: Abirami Jotheeswaran)

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

Survival. That's what Bhasha believes is at stake. John agrees. "These are decades-long struggles of women fighting for safe workspaces, women demanding better sports infrastructure for practice, police inaction and insensitivity, this is a struggle that women need to see through. This is a fight against a larger fight against criminal impunity."

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

What is the Mahila Panchayat demanding? The major demand of the Panchayat is the arrest of Singh. But looking forward, their strategy is to bring in some systematic reforms, too.

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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12 women's collectives organised a Mahila Panchayat in New Delhi in solidarity with the wrestlers' protest.

They want the Supreme Court to monitor the case closely and ensure a free and fair trial. The organisations called for all-India public meetings in solidarity with the wrestlers, challenging the culture of silence, impunity, and political patronage for the accused. They also demanded that the sports federations constitute internal complaints committees on priority as well as redressal mechanisms at the workplace. They further called for immediate police and judicial reforms.

(Photo: Garima Sadhwani/The Quint)

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