NEW DELHI, INDIA — Dozens of Indian farmers broke down police barricades in New Delhi on Monday to join wrestlers protesting against the sport’s local federation chief over allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation.
Several of the wrestlers are from the nearby state of Haryana, a rice-producing area where many people make their living from farming.
The farmers were led by one of the groups behind demonstrations against agriculture reform bills that lasted for more than a year, and with hundreds of them at the site by Monday afternoon, its involvement increases the likelihood that the wrestlers’ protest will go into the long term.
The athletes — including Olympic medallists and Commonwealth champions — have been demanding the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is also a ruling-party lawmaker.
Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella group of protesting farmers, released a statement at the weekend condemning Delhi police for denying the athletes “basic civil rights” and backing the calls for Singh’s arrest, adding it would mount nationwide protests this week.
Delhi police last month registered two complaints against Singh, who has denied the allegations.
In a video posted on Facebook on Saturday, Singh urged the farmers to wait until investigations were completed, broadcaster NDTV reported.
“If these children are committing a mistake, let them do so, my request to the elderly with folded hands is that you should not commit the mistake,” NDTV quoted him as saying.
The protesting wrestlers, including Olympic bronze medallist wrestlers Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, have been backed by some of India’s most famous athletes.
Retired tennis great Sania Mirza said it had been difficult to watch her fellow athletes in distress.
Olympic gold medallist javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra also called on authorities to launch a speedy investigation to “ensure that justice is served”.