A prominent Indian male wrestler, Bajrang Punia, has returned one of the nation’s highest civilian honours, Padma Shri, on Friday, December 22, in opposition to the election of a new President, Sanjay Kumar Yadav, to the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), a move supported by his predecessor, who is charged with sexually harassing female wrestlers.
The Indian President honoured Bajrang Punia, the first wrestler from India to win four world championship medals, with the fourth-highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri, in 2019 in recognition of his sporting accomplishments.
Punia said that he would “not be able to live with the respect bestowed upon him by the government of India at a time when women wrestlers have been insulted” in a letter he shared with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on X, the previous Twitter platform, on Friday.
Why is Bajrang Punia returning the award?
A day after Sanjay Singh Yadav was chosen to serve as the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chair, he decided to return the honour. Brij Bhushan Singh, the former head of the WFI, supported Singh.
Another six-term member of parliament for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Brij Bhushan Singh, has denied the accusations leveled against him.
According to BJP authorities, his case is still pending trial. Bajrang Punia’s letter to Modi received no official reaction from the administration right away.
Protesting female wrestlers expressed their dismay on Thursday at the WFI’s leadership being given to a man who has the backing of Brij Bhushan Singh.
Bajrang Punia participated in the demonstrations held in January by female wrestlers against Brij Bhushan Singh, who was accused of sexually abusing six of them in June.
The Sports Ministry removed Brij Bhushan Singh’s administrative authority, and the government promised to look into the claims and defend female athletes.
Indian wrestlers were forced to participate in international competitions as neutral competitors because the WFI missed the August deadline for selecting a new president.
Modi’s government has been under fire from opposition parties for how it handled the charges, which gained international prominence as a result of several scandals involving the abuse of women in sports.
Many people are criticizing this move by Bajrang Punia and citing it as an insult to the national honour of Padma Shri.