Indian athletes join in solidarity with farmers

As farmers in India continue their fight against neo-liberal reforms introduced by India’s far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, a group of champion sportsmen from Punjab province lent their voices to the struggle yesterday. Led by the famous wrestler Kartar Singh, the group marched to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President of India’s official residence, to return a total of 35 medals in an act of solidarity with farmers, before being blocked by a massive contingent of riot police.

The protests began nearly two months ago in Punjab and Haryana states, with farmers taking to the streets, blocking highways, and clashing with police who have attacked them with tear gas and water cannons.

As reported earlier this month: “The farmers are protesting three laws that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP rushed through parliament in September, at the same time as they were attacking workers’ right to strike and gutting restrictions on plant closures and mass layoffs. Long demanded by big business, the IMF and World Bank, the BJP’s agrarian “reform” laws are aimed at strengthening the power of agri-business at the expense of farmers and consumers. They promote contract farming, undermine the government-regulated system of agricultural markets (known as mandis), and will open the door, farmers fear, to abolishing the Minimum Support Price for certain basic commodities.”

Yesterday the athletes were led by veteran wrestling champion Kartar Singh. From the Tarn Taran district of Punjab, Singh represented India at numerous international wrestling competitions in the 1970s and 1980s, where he competed in the Men’s Freestyle 100kg category. He took home gold medals in the 1978 and 1986 Asian Games, and several more silver and bronze models at other Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. He ranked 7th in his weight class at the 1984 Summer Olympics in California.

Among those marching with Kartar were Olympic gold-winning former hockey player Gurmail Singh, former women’s hockey captain Rajbir Kaur, and former basketballer Sajjan Singh Cheema, recipient of the prestigious Arjuna Awards for Outstanding Performance in Sports and Games.

Even prior to yesterday’s march, India’s first Olympic medal-winning boxer, Vijender Singh, threatened to return his medals in solidarity with protesting farmers.

Vijender went professional in 2015, signing to Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions. Since then he has amassed a record of 12-0-0 in the super-middleweight division, with 8 of those victories by way of knockout, and has held the WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight belt since 2016. In 2018, Vijender signed with Top Rank.

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