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Wrestler Vinesh Phogat Leaves Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award On Kartavya Path

The Khel Ratna is the country’s highest sporting honour.

New Delhi:

Four days after announcing that she would return her Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award, wrestler Vinesh Phogat left the accolades on a pavement on Kartavya Path in New Delhi on Saturday. She did this after the Delhi Police stopped her from going to the Prime Minister’s office. 

The Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold medallist had announced her decision to return the awards in an open letter to the Prime Minister on Tuesday. This had come days after Sakshee Malikkh said she was retiring from wrestling and Bajrang Punia returned his Padma Shri. 

The three wrestlers were at the forefront of the protests against then Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The BJP MP had been accused of sexual harassment by several women wrestlers. 

Bajrang Punia posted a video of Ms Phogat walking on Kartavya Path, which stretches from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate, holding the Arjuna Award trophy and what appears to be a letter. She is then seen talking to a policeman who approaches her.

The ace wrestler had been awarded the Khel Ratna, which is the country’s highest sporting honour, in 2020 and the Arjuna Award in 2016. The Delhi Police picked up the awards after Ms Phogat left them behind.

Ms Phogat, Ms Mallikh and Mr Punia had expressed their disappointment after a panel led by Sanjay Singh, a close aide of Brij Bhushan, won the elections to the Wrestling Federation of India by a landslide on December 21, indicating a continuity of leadership in the body. Mr Singh had defeated Commonwealth Games Gold medallist Anita Sheoran, who was backed by the wrestlers, winning 40 out of 47 votes. 

On December 24, the Sports Ministry had suspended the panel led by Mr Singh for not following the provisions of its own constitution while taking decisions, and asked the Indian Olympic Association to constitute an ad-hoc panel to manage day-to-day affairs at the Wrestling Federation of India. The panel was constituted three days later.

Emotional Letter

In the open letter that she posted on X, formerly Twitter, Ms Phogat had asked whether women wrestlers were made only to grace government advertisements and said she was returning the Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award so that they don’t become a “burden on the path of living with dignity”.

Referring to Brij Bhushan’s remark after the wrestling body elections that his dominance would continue, Ms Phogat claimed he had earlier admitted on television that he had made women wrestlers uncomfortable, and had used every opportunity to humiliate them.

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