All of India was captivated by the sight of Meenakshi Lekhi, the Minister of State for Culture, rapidly breaking into a sprint.
Lekhi was fleeing from reporters who were asking her questions about the plight of women athletes who had won Olympic medals and were now protesting against the alleged sexual harassment by Brij Bhushan Saran Singh, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP.
The beleaguered women athletes had previously been hailed as India’s daughters. However, when they voiced their protest against sexual harassment perpetrated by an influential MP of the ruling party, they were effectively abandoned, becoming orphans in a sense, no longer considered anyone’s daughters.
In India, one is either a medal-winning “good girl” or a problem for the patriarchy.
These women athletes, who had been protesting for a month, were manhandled by cops and forcibly evicted from the protest site. Meanwhile, the alleged harasser MP was pictured beaming at the inauguration of India’s new Parliament building.
Throwing their medals
The stark contrast between the tearful athletes and the smiling politician deeply affected them, leading them to decide to immerse their Olympic medals in the Ganges. The power imbalance hit them hard, prompting the athletes to delay submerging their medals for five days.
In the meantime, the infamous IT cell of a particular political party circulated deepfake images of the women athletes, showing them smiling and smirking as they were taken away in police vans. Those manipulated pictures went viral.
This incident highlighted two things: first, that the gloves were truly off against the athletes as trolls were unleashed to defame and slander them, and second, that no action would be taken against the alleged harasser.
As international Olympic bodies watched the treatment of these women athletes with horror, they felt compelled to publicly express their concerns.
IOC urges swift investigation
I asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to react to the plight of the women athletes. The following is what they said to me in an official statement:
“The treatment of the Indian wrestling athletes over the weekend was very disturbing. The IOC insists that the allegations by the wrestlers are followed up on by an unbiased, criminal investigation in line with local law. We understand that a first step towards such a criminal investigation has been made, but more steps have to follow before concrete actions become visible. We urge that the safety and well-being of these athletes is duly considered throughout this process and that this investigation will be speedily concluded.
From the very beginning of the allegations, the IOC has been in close contact with United World Wrestling (UWW), which has already taken measures. The IOC supports UWW as the competent sporting authority to address this issue as it pertains to the governance of the sport of wrestling in India. We have been informed by UWW that the President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) is currently not in charge. The IOC will continue to support UWW in all their efforts and in the framework of the IOC Guidelines for International Federations and NOCs for safeguarding athletes from harassment and abuse in sport.
The IOC also urges the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to take all necessary actions to protect the athletes and to make sure that the elections of WFI are happening as planned and in line with the regulations of UWW as an International Federation.”