Just a day after Rio Olympics medalist, Sakshi Malik, announced her departure from the wrestling world, Tokyo Olympics medalist Bajrang Punia, made a shocking decision. He returned his Padma Shri award.
In a video posted on X, he was on his way to Prime Minister Modi’s residence in Delhi to return the award amid the ongoing dispute between the former Wrestling President of India, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, and wrestlers. However, Delhi Police stopped him at Karthavya Path in Central Delhi, leading the star wrestler to leave the award stranded on the footpath.
An hour earlier, Punia had written a letter to the Prime Minister. He shared it on X, explaining his decision to return his award was a protest against the election of Sanjay Singh as the president of the Wrestling Federation of India.
“When I think about this day, these medals and awards hurt me. Why were we even recognized when we couldn’t protect our fellow wrestlers? I feel unsuitable for this award. The Wrestling Federation of India should support, not push athletes into retirement,” said Punia.
The controversy blew up when it turned out that Sanjay Singh was a close aide to Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party and former Wrestling Federation of India chief. Allegations of sexual harassment had led to the removal of Brij Bhushan. Seven female wrestlers, including a minor, had reported instances of molestation and inappropriate demands. Despite this controversy, Singh was still elected, supported by Bhushan.
Not everyone supported Punia’s decision. Some social media users criticized him for “insulting” the Padma Shri medal. They urged him to return the financial rewards he received too, arguing that it spoke volumes about his respect for the nation.
“Bajrang Punia threw Padma Shri Award medal on the footpath near PM house, he didn’t throw the money/cheque received with it though. Padma Awards belong to our country but not to any government. Such people don’t even hesitate to insult the country for their political benefits,” one user wrote.
Punia wasn’t alone in expressing his dissatisfaction. Sakshi Malik, a wrestling icon and co-protester against former WFI president Brij Bhushan, announced she was quitting wrestling due to Bhushan’s close aide, Sanjay Singh, being elected the new president. Clearly emotional, Malik broke down during her press conference announcing her retirement.
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