‘Privileged people who don’t speak up don’t have any right to complain later on in their lives’

Last week’s encounter on the outskirts of Hyderabad where four rape accused were shot dead by the police triggered congratulatory messages by some city-based badminton players. However, Jwala Gutta, a Commonwealth Games badminton gold medallist from Hyderabad, expressed disquiet. She explains why to Siddharth Saxena:

Indian sportspersons don’t speak out. Is there too much at stake?

Winning a medal or a World Cup or having records alone is not enough. When millions of people start following you, it is your moral responsibility to speak up against the wrong in your eyes. If it’s about too much being at stake, remember, in the end, you have to look yourself in the mirror.

Privileged people who don’t speak up don’t have any right to complain later on in their lives. I only ask them, ‘What are you scared about?’

If one person speaks, he or she will be targeted. Maybe if two people speak out too. But if a bunch of us speak out, what will go wrong? Why do sportspersons choose a side? We aren’t supposed to. We are supposed to choose India’s side, not a government or a system’s side.

I never got endorsements because the ad people told me, ‘It’s because Jwala is controversial.’ It gets frustrating. I’ve always been taught, ‘If you perform, if you play, the rest will follow.’

You’ve always been an outspoken personality, which is a rarity in Indian sports.

No, I’ve not been outspoken. I speak the facts. According to what I have found out, I give my opinion. Many of the rest choose to stay safe. My understanding of human rights and fundamental rights is something different from other people, and I think I’m just practising my right. I’m a very proud Indian.

This thing about being labelled outspoken, people end up identifying you with that perception. Especially if it’s a woman, it’s even worse.

Many celebrities and sportspersons have praised Hyderabad police for the encounter but you tweeted the celebrations disturbed you.

Such encounters have always troubled me. What baffled me this time was the kind of celebrations that followed. It was the pat on the back [for the police] by celebrities that really disturbed me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to accept that kind of a reaction over a death. I think in this incident we didn’t lose just one life, we lost five lives and the trauma will be borne by the families of all five. Even the accused’s families are innocent. The due process should have been followed. I think that is the procedure in a civil society.

Do you think it shows just how angry people are with the slow pace of judicial delivery in India?

I think rape is rape. I’m definitely not sympathising with the rapists. But as a human I have empathy. Just because a few humans made a choice to act like animals, it doesn’t mean that I too behave or think like them.

You know, when there’s a beheading by Taliban, when rapists are punished and it’s done publicly, a lot of us cringe, don’t we? There is a reason why their kind of lifestyle doesn’t work in our country. It’s because we are a democratic country. Why are we celebrating this then? Being a woman, I totally sympathise with the victim, but an encounter is not the permanent solution.

If you are pointing out Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu and their reactions, why do you think that has changed?

I feel this praising of the system all over has become the new normal, irrespective of the context. The same girls who were so happy that these four rapists were killed, should have condemned the other rapes as well. The rapists who are roaming free, they should condemn that too. They should feel an equal angst for that as well.

Do you think this is more than just a condemnation of a rape or injustice? Is it more that they have to be seen to be siding with the government?

Nowadays, nobody wants to hurt the government, or the people in power. Especially sportspersons because all the awards and rewards hinge on how the powerful perceive them. Take my case. I received the Arjuna Award in 2011, but after that I haven’t got a single award – whether it is Congress in power or BJP. I was India’s biggest doubles player, I should have got the Padma Shri long back. I play for India. I don’t play for a political party. I have won medals for my country. And just because I don’t agree with certain things, it doesn’t make me anti-Indian or anti-government.

Is the backlash on speaking out more now than it was say 10 years ago?

I was labelled anti-Congress then, I’ve been labelled anti-TRS, so now, I’m anti-BJP? It’s gotten worse now because of social media. I get threats.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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