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I'm returning my Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award: Vinesh Phogat

Source: PTI
Last updated on: December 26, 2023 21:53 IST
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'The Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards don't have any meaning in my life now.'

IMAGE: Vinesh Phogat said she wants to return her Khel Ratna and Arjuna award to the Prime Minister. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

Star wrestler Vinesh Phogat on Tuesday decided to return her Khel Ratna and Arjuna award to the Prime Minister, saying that such honours have become meaningless in the current situation where the grapplers are struggling badly for justice.


Phogat, the two-time World Championship medal winner, announced her decision in her letter penned for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In the letter posted on X, Phogat said their lives are not like those 'fancy government advertisements' that talk about women empowerment and upliftment.

"The Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards don't have any meaning in my life now. Every woman in this country wants to lead a dignified life. So PM sir I want to return my Dhyan Chand and Arjun award to you so that these awards don't become a burden on us in our endeavour to lead a dignified life," she said in her letter.

Vinesh was conferred with the Khel Ratna, the highest sports honour in India, in 2020 while she received the Arjuna Award in 2016.

Phogat's decision comes days after Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia and Deafylmpics champion Virender Singh Yadav returned their Padma Shri awards despite the government suspending newly-elected Wrestling Federation of India.

Sanjay Singh was elected as WFI's chief last week. He is an associate of Brij Bhushan Singh Sharan and the wrestlers did not want any one close to the BJP MP entering the national federation.

Brij Bhushan was accused of sexual harassment of several women wrestlers by Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik. They had held a long drawn protest at Jantar Mantar early this year.

The matter is being in a Delhi court.

The Sports Ministry said it has already done a lot and will again try to convince them to review their decisions.    

"We have already suspended the new WFI body taking cognizance of the matter. We have suspended the newly-elected body for not following the provisions of its own constitution," said a ministry official

"Returning awards is their way of protest. But we have already asked the IOA to form an ad-hoc body which run WFI till fresh elections.

"We will try to convince and request the wrestlers to take back their awards," he added.

Phogat said she was on cloud nine when they were chosen for spreading government messages but is dismayed at the current situation.

"I remember in 2016 when Sakshi won the Olympic medal your government had made her the brand ambassador of 'Beti bachao beti padhao' campaign. When we got to know about this, this country's women were happy and were sending each other congratulatory messages.

"Today when Sakshi was forced to leave wrestling, I keep remembering that year. Are we women athletes there only for government ads? We have no objection to publishing those advertisements because, from the slogan written in them, it seems that your government wants to work seriously for the upliftment of daughters."

The newly-elected WFI panel has however, been suspended by the Sports Ministry for not following the provisions of its constitution while taking decisions and also asked the IOA to constitute an ad-hoc panel to manage the affairs of the sports body.

In suspending the fresh panel, the government cited its "hasty announcement" of organising the Under-15 and Under-20 nationals "without following due procedure and not giving sufficient notice to wrestlers" for preparations.

"In what condition Bajrang (Punia) decided to return his Padma Shri is not known to me. But when I saw his photo, I was suffering from inside. After that, I also started hating my awards. When I got these awards my mother distributed sweets to the neighbours."

"I want to get rid of that picture of Vinesh accepting the award because that was a dream and whatever happening now with us is reality."

"When I met you (PM) I told you also about the matter. We have been on the streets for the last year for justice but nobody is taking us seriously."

Vinesh urged the PM to listen to Brij Bhhushan's "crude" statements against the women wrestlers.

"The exploiter has declared his dominance and raised slogans in a very crude manner. Just spare 5 minutes of your life and listen to the statements given by that man in the media, you will know what all he has done.

"He has described women wrestlers as Manthra. He admitted to making women wrestlers uncomfortable on TV openly and didn't leave even a single opportunity to humiliate the women players. What is more serious is that it has forced many female wrestlers to step back. This is very scary."

"Sometimes I wonder whenever my aunties and relatives see our plight now on TV, what they have been telling my mother. No mother in this country will want her daughter to suffer like this," she said.


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