Thomas Franco

All India Bank Officers Confederation (AIBOC) and All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA), both apex bodies representing more than 6 lakh bankers, have addressed a communique to express their strong condemnation and outrage regarding the brutal attack on the wrestlers who were peacefully demonstrating at Jantar Mantar while exercising their constitutional as well as democratic right to protest and right to expression.

Quote from the statement:

“The wrestlers, who were seeking justice against the alleged repugnant acts of sexual harassment committed by Mr Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a Member of Parliament from the ruling Party and the President of the Wrestlers’ Federation of India, deserve our unwavering support and solidarity. It is deeply distressing to witness such a heinous act of violence against individuals exercising their fundamental right to peaceful protest. These wrestlers, who have dedicated their lives to their sport and earned laurels for the country at the highest level of excellence, demonstrated immense courage in coming forward to highlight the issue of sexual harassment faced by athletes’ most particularly the wrestlers. Their demand for justice and a safe environment for all athletes is not only justified but also crucial in fostering a healthy and inclusive sporting community and we, both the organisations, are unequivocal in our strong resentment and condemnation of the brutal misuse of forces by the present dispensation and their desperation to shield the culprit that shall surely blot the pages of history and posterity shall undoubtedly remember them for a wrong cause.
The attack on the wrestlers is an assault on the principles of justice, human rights, and the spirit of the sport itself. The AIBOC and AIBEA, firmly denounce such acts of violence and aggression. We stand alongside the victims and advocate for their rights to be protected, their voices to be heard, and their demands to be addressed with utmost urgency. Our organizations stand for fairness, equality, and justice. We are committed to protecting the honour of women and we are against any assault on the dignity of women. Our collective responsibility is to ensure that athletes are protected from any form of harassment and that their grievances are heard and addressed promptly and effectively. We urge all our members to come forward, join hands, and support the cause of the wrestlers who have been unjustly attacked. Together, we can create a powerful movement that demands justice, accountability, and change. We also appeal to fellow citizens, sports organizations, and civil society groups to come forward and support the wrestlers in their fight for justice. Together, we can create an environment that respects and protects the rights of every individual, regardless of their background or profession, defying the ill-conceived notion of ‘might is right.’ AIBOC and AIBEA urge the government to address the concerns raised by these athletes and take necessary and immediate actions against the accused. It is the duty of our society to protect our pride and ensure that justice prevails over felonies and fallacies of any kind.” Unquote.

Similar statements and appeals have been given by women’s organisations, trade unions and farmer’s movements in a rare show of solidarity with our wrestlers. What has happened to them can happen to our own sisters, daughters and granddaughters. In our conservative society, how many fathers and mothers will happily send their daughters to participate in sports and games outside their native place to state, national and International levels? As a correspondent of the SBIOA group of institutions serving 30000 students, I have seen parents refusing to send their daughters when they attain adulthood. With this kind of instances and the arrogance of the Govt which is protecting the culprit instead of safeguarding the citizens, the faith in the system is being destroyed.

How can a Prime Minister of the country with the largest population keep silent in spite of some wrestlers making an appeal to him in person when they were congratulated for their performance, as mentioned in the FIR?

How can the police withhold arrest, which is mandatory under the POCSO Act? And instead, help the accused to pressurise to withdraw a statement made by a minor to a magistrate?

How could the Home Minister of the country have a discussion with them but tell them not to share what transpired in the meeting?

How a minor’s statement can be withdrawn against the law?

How could the offender’s supporters demand the withdrawal of POCSO Act itself to save him?

How could the police remove the protesting women wrestler’s tent, drag them, abuse them and threaten them? Are we in a democracy or a dictatorship?

Why are the Prime Minister and Home Minister afraid of an offender who once confessed to murder? How was he in the first place chosen to be an MP, despite several criminal cases against him?

What happened to the slogan BETI BACHAO, DESH BACHAO?

Why has the Govt not acted on the appeal of prominent citizens, and sports personalities including Kapil Dev and the 1983 Cricket World Cup winning team?

What is the Sports Minister, Minister for Women’s Development, Home Minister and the Prime Minister doing?

Like Mohammed Ali who threw his medals into a river when atrocities against Blacks increased, the wrestlers wanted to throw their medals into the Ganges and were prevented by the farmer leaders who offered support to them.

It was heartbreaking to see them dragged on the street. Does anyone in the Govt have a human heart? They are not only breaking the law; they are not only breaking the morale of the wrestlers; they are not only breaking the future of girls who would like to enter the sports arena; they are not only breaking the faith in the police; they are not only breaking the human fabric of the country which always had respect to women; they are breaking the country, the constitution and values!

It’s time for not only the bankers, farmers, women, workers, youth, and students but every citizen to stand up with the wrestlers. They may be tired, frustrated, and scared, but we cannot allow this atrocity in a democratic nation. The nation of Gandhi, Ambedkar, Nehru and every one of our forefathers except a few who were cowards and selfish.

It is our responsibility to take the struggle forward to its logical end. The offender should be punished, if not hanged. Bankers have taken the right step. Let’s follow with more vigour, strength and determination.

Recall Martin Niemöller’s words during the Nazi dictatorship in Hitler’s Germany.

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist,

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist,

Then they came for the Jews and, I did not speak out because I was not a Jew,

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Thomas Franco is the former General Secretary of All India Bank Officers’ Confederation and a Steering Committee Member at the Global Labour University.

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