Interview | What Connects Wrestlers’ Protest to the 2021 Farmers’ Struggle?

Both the protests began as "peaceful, non-violent demonstrations" for "eminently sensible and justifiable demands."

2 min read

Video Editor: Karuna Mishra

Almost two years back, in December 2021, the protests by thousands of Indian farmers reached a conclusive end after a year-long struggle once the Narendra Modi government accepted their demands and did away with controversial agricultural reforms. Harsh weather conditions, a full-blown pandemic – nothing crushed their spirits to continue with their fight for justice.

Fast forward to May 2023, the wrestlers who represented the country on global forums were thrashed and detained from the protest site of Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, for demanding the arrest of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP and the Wrestling Federation Chief– Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh who is accused by several women wrestlers of sexual harassment.

As the farmers extend their overwhelming support towards the wrestling community during this crisis and amid speculations of the wrestlers' protest reaching its end, The Quint's chat with the former president of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), Dr Ashok Dhawale, provides insightful details on how both the protests share an organic connection and how both the farmers and the wrestlers have been at the receiving end of government apathy and partisanship.

How Wrestlers’ Protests Became a National Movement

There are several parallels that can be drawn between the nature of the farmers' and wrestlers' protests and the impact they have had on the citizens, says Dhawale. Firstly, both protests began as "peaceful, non-violent demonstrations" for "eminently sensible and justifiable demands." Secondly, both received mass support from a big cross-section of society, namely trade unions, women's organisations, and student youth bodies.

However, the most important link is how the government extended its protection towards Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh in the same way as it did for the Union Mister of State for Home, Ajay Mishra Teni, in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence in 2021 that killed four farmers and one journalist.

The treatment meted out to Olympic medal-winners like Sakshi Malick, Vinesh Phogat, and others who the entire country admires for their grit, courage, and determination -- the way they were being pushed, thrown around and beaten up by the trigger-happy police is a complete "assault on democracy" and something that the nation will remember, Dhawale asserts.

Agrarian Background of Wrestlers Draws Farmers’ Empathy

The parents of many of these protesting wrestlers are farmers or agricultural workers. In India and other countries, a kisan (farmer) is considered akin to a jawan (soldier). A struggling class background is likely what binds the farmers naturally to the wrestlers, who view the latter as their own children and feel strongly for their plight.

Khap Communities Sideline Gender Bias To Support Wrestlers

People from the khaps and panchayats which are essentially caste bodies, may not have prioritised gender equality in the past but many from these communities kept their differences aside and came out in support of the wrestlers and their fight for justice. Incidentally, a huge number of women from these communities supported the farmers too in their days of struggle. This, Dhawale says, is the foundational basis of secularism and the true reflection of a democratic nation.

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