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From Embracing Chaos To Shutting Noise, Vinesh Phogat Storms to Olympic Quota

458 days after she sat at Jantar Mantar, pleading for justice against sexists, Vinesh Phogat secured Olympics quota.

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Wrestling
4 min read
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It couldn’t have been more emphatic than this.

The 10-0 scoreline against Kazakhstan’s Laura Ganikyzy vaulted Vinesh Phogat into a position of strength, giving India and her (her 3rd Olympic Quota) an Olympic quota for Paris. The sort of comeback, that perhaps Vinesh herself would hesitate before predicting.

It was January 18 2023 – 458 days ago, to be precise – when Vinesh, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and a bunch of other wrestlers sat at Jantar Mantar, pleading for justice against a group of Wrestling Federation of India’s (WFI) office bearers, led by the then President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The charge – sexual harassment.

By 28 May, Vinesh, Sakshi and Bajrang were booked for rioting and obstructing public servants in the discharge of duty, when they attempted to march towards the new Parliament, being inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The International Olympic Committee and the United World Wrestling were quick in condemning the police action, calling it ‘very disturbing.

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A Miraculous Achievement, Against a Federation With Sexist & Narcissistic Tones

Now, back from a knee surgery and over a year out of international competition, Vinesh shows what it is to keep out the Noise, shut out everything and purely focus on what can be classified as ‘Redemption’. If she goes all the way to Paris and what many believe her to be a contender for a podium finish, it would be vindication.

In a federation with sexist, narcissistic tones and office bearers paying allegiance to the former President Brij Bhushan Sharma, an egomaniac whom most wrestlers, publicly and privately, described as ‘evil’ – for Vinesh Phogat to get away from the trolls, waves of negativism, that included journalists belonging to both sides of the divide, is nothing short of miraculous.

Like a heavyweight boxer, dropped to the canvas numerous times yet pulls out that punch in the last seconds of the final round for a stunning KO (knockout) victory. Winning an Olympic Quota has that feel and texture.

Coming Face To Face With the Noise of Negativism

There is an essay by The New Yorker’s music critic Alex Ross on Noise, in which he explains “Sometimes we embrace it, sometimes we hate it—and everything depends on who is making it.”

In the din of the protests at Jantar Mantar, cut by silence at night where tired wrestlers and alert cops sat side by side, Vinesh came to face with a sort of Noise that they love inside the stadiums when the bouts are on. The kind that sends adrenaline flowing, veins pumped up and throbbing, like water pipes bursting in an Alaskan winter, blood pumping, mind, body focused on a medal, podium.

At Jantar Mantar, for Vinesh and the other wrestlers, the Noise was about negativism. Ross writes – (if we have the power to juxtapose Jantar Mantar into his thinking, the setting up and smashing of barricades, the police swooping, dragging away the wrestlers, each limb grabbed and taken away like sacks of garbage, pushed, hurled into police vans) – “Unwanted sound is the basic definition. An act of aggression is implied: someone is exercising power by projecting sound into your space.”

Sexual harassment was the sound injected into the women wrestler’s space. What Vinesh and the others fought was the Noise of domination, of males exercising power and superiority.

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This Is Vinesh Phogat’s Time

When they came back for a second sit-in at Jantar Mantar, with doubts cast on their motives, Vinesh had said:

Those who have harassed us so much, how can we trust them to protect women wrestlers? If they make someone (the president), maybe they will harass women more than them. We have been like this since 1976. Women's participation has increased in wrestling. We have started to compete with men. Do they want to finish women in that game? How can we trust anything until we feel safe?
Vinesh Phogat

In a direct reference to Brij Bhushan, she remarked: “A person who is not good himself, how will he make good people sit?”

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Vinesh and the others, in the face of a government that kept quiet, more so turned their faces away, protected their own (Brij Bhushan, a sitting Lok Sabha member), appealed to other sportspersons to come forward and support their fight.

We have appealed a lot. Bajrang has written many open letters to all the people. I am also telling you people to come out and speak up. It is good for sports; it is good for our country. hope that the rest of the people who have not come, will also come, and speak up. Because the players of the country do not just win a medal in a competition. The future of the country is in the hands of the youth. We have to work and fulfil their responsibilities. I hope that the rest of the athletes will also come forward and speak up against the system.
Vinesh Phogat

In the Asian Olympic Qualifiers at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Vinesh didn’t drop a point in reaching the final. This is Vinesh’s time. Unstoppable. Tenacious.

She will feel free now. All that Noise, Jantar Mantar, trolls, and the rest, in the distance, like an echo dying off. She will look forward to Paris – the Noise she would so readily embrace, whichever way the campaign goes. An athlete back in its den, on the prowl, the glimmer of the medals, proud torso on the podium.

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