The idea of the beta as naam roshan karne wala is weakened. A door opens, so that more girls can enter the field.
When a sportswoman wins an international medal, something significant shifts. The impact spans out in multiple directions, like a movie special effect, altering equations of social norms, individual aspiration and sense of self. The idea that women can be a source of pride, not impending shame, becomes visible. The idea of the beta as naam roshan karne wala is weakened. A door opens, so that more girls can enter the field.
In 2016, when Sakshi Malik won an Olympic medal, she said, “I had never anticipated such an overwhelming response to my victory, considering the hostile attitude they had towards me in all my training years as a woman wrestler. Let your daughters play!” Yaniki, let girls experience their bodies not as sites of control, but of liberation, fun, power, ambition.
Those are the things at stake in wrestler’s protest which began with Vinay Phogat and Sakshi Malik accusing BJP MP and Wrestling Federation of Indian chairman, Brijbushan Sharan Sharma of sexual harassment. The agitation they embarked on was not for themselves alone— they are using their position to stand for younger athletes who are more precarious.
Sexual harassment causes the system to suddenly transform into an old Hindi film, full of sound effects and a drama of denial. A bade baap ka bigda hua beta is defended by the whole world. Complainants are surrounded by an atmosphere of menace. The police won’t file FIRs. Bad dialogue is everywhere, like bad faith and bad breath—women are tarnishing the national reputation by telling the truth about the bad behaviour in the house. “Allegations does not mean it is true.” Yes, of course. But allegations also do not mean it is false, which is what the system devotes itself to proving. That’s what the process is for. But the process becomes that Oversight Committee’s devote themselves not just to oversight, but overlooking all indicators of truth and putting the onus on victims, not on the justice system. In this case, they have demanded audio and video proof that must counter their own unshakeable belief in raja betas.
Well, there is a video of Mr Sharma slapping a wrestler on stage in 2021.What is that proof of? The WFI office is in the MPs bungalow currently occupied by Brijbhushan Sharan Sharma. Did you say fiefdom? Oh well. The wrestler’s struggle is a significant moment in the history of struggles around sexual violence. With male wrestlers joining the protest early on, brings focus on the underlying truth that sexual harassment is part of an overall culture of power designed to maintain the supremacy of upper caste men. The struggle has mobilised rural women, khaps and other sports stars (not male cricketers, obviously yaar).
Even as a new Parliament building claims to signal a new India, the wrestlers have called for a women’s mahapanchayat this Sunday, outside Parliament. Their movement is the latest iteration of a question that has been repeatedly rising to the surface, from different corners of this society, and different formations, bringing diverse, even politically messy groups of people onto the streets: who is the new India for and what does it stand for in terms of its people? Questions are significant plot points because they too, have a way of spanning out in unknown directions like movie effects. And politics is a movie that never ends, but keeps moving. Picture is always baaki.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org