Even as the new Parliament, described 24X7 by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the ‘Temple of Democracy’, was being inaugurated, less than two kilometres away, the Delhi Police was crushing the very democratic rights of the people that the `Temple’ ensures.
These people were no ordinary citizens of this country, they were some of the top ambassadors of Indian sport, seeking redressal and justice against an official who they have accused of sexual harassment against female wrestlers.
Was This the Only Way?
Olympic medal-winning wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik along with three-time Commonwealth Games champion and Asian Games silver medallist Vinesh Phogat were stopped, physically pulled, pushed, and dragged on the roads at Jantar Mantar before being detained by the Delhi Police on Sunday, 28 May, morning.
They wanted to simply march towards this new `Temple of Democracy’ to air their complaint against the sports official and Member of Parliament Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
The protesting wrestlers, and some of their supporters, were taken to different locations after being dragged and carried into buses. Bajrang was detained at a police station near Mayur Vihar, Vinesh and Sangeeta were taken to Kalkaji, and Sakshi to Burari.
"They have been detained for violating law and order. We will take legal action after inquiry in due course of time," said Special Commisioner of Police (Law and Order) Dependra Pathak.
But was dragging and physically restraining Padma Shri Bajrang, Sakshi, and Vinesh (all three of them Khel Ratna award winners) the only way left for the Delhi Police? After all, this was not a march that the wrestlers suddenly decided on on Sunday morning.
For the last few days, they had been making announcements on social media, calling for support for the 'mahila samman mahapanchayat' that they were planning to hold in front of the new Parliament building on Sunday.
Could the Delhi Police not have implemented any other measures to restrict the wrestlers' movement? Added barricades to the protest site? Used water cannons instead of physical force?
For me, personally, it was the saddest day of my long career as a sports journalist. I have seen all these wrestlers winning medals at various international championships. I was witness to Sakshi winning a bronze medal in the Rio Olympic Games and the adulation she received afterwards.
Four Indian coaches immediately owned her as their trainee! One of them even carried her out from the ring on his shoulders. On arrival, back in India, the reception at the airport was one never witnessed before for a female Indian wrestler.
It was the fame and popularity of these very wrestlers that made Nenad Lalovic, president of United World Wrestling, grant the hosting rights of the Professional Wrestling League to India for the first time ever.
It was the same wrestlers with whom ministers liked to take selfies.
Even the prime minister himself has met them on several occasions, interacted with them, and posted pictures with them in social media.
Mr Modi has often broken his SPG ring to walk with the common people, specially youth, after Independence Day Speech and the Republic Day Parade. What stops him now from meeting these celebrated young athletes, the icons for youth of the country?
This meeting could be an icing on the cake for his Mann Ki Baat!
These wrestlers may have been made to drag on the wrestling mat by their foreign rival, but at Jantar Mantar they were dragged on the coal tar road by their own – the Delhi Police – which paints the town red with slogans like Delhi Police, dil ki police.
Protest Site Cleared by Police
Delhi Police, it almost seems, was waiting for this day.
It was like they were looking for an excuse to vacate the protesting wrestlers from Jantar Mantar, where they had started their sit-in against Brij Bhushan on 23 April.
Still awaiting justice for the seven women, including a minor, who had filed FIRs against the BJP MP, the wrestlers had refused to return to their homes, braving the Delhi heat and rains in their makeshift tents over the last month.
On Sunday, following the arrests of the wrestlers, it seemed like they found the opportunity they'd been waiting for and immediately got to removing the tents and mattresses where the wrestlers had been protesting over the last month.
Within hours, the site was cleaned up in the speedy manner which the wrestlers' themselves had been urging for, in the investigation against Brij Bhushan.
I wonder how Mr Dependra Pathak felt while handling this operation. Just a few months back, Mr Pathak himself had attended and appreciated the efforts of women athletes at BBC’s function to name the Sportswoman of the Year.
Incidentally, both Vinesh and Sakshi were also shortlisted for the award.
(Norris Pritam is a journalist having spent over three decades covering Indian sports.)