India’s biggest dangal star Jashkawar Gill failed to make his much-awaited international debut after organisers of a world ranking tournament in Turkey didn’t allow him to take the mat wearing his patka.
International wrestling rules allow players to wear headgear that don’t harm opponents during bouts. But in Istanbul on July 28, the referee’s insistence that Gill tie his hair like women competitors, and the 25-year-old Sikh wrestler’s refusal citing religious beliefs, resulted in a walkover for his first-round rival.
With the international body, United World Wrestling (UWW), and the host association in Turkey passing the buck over the debacle, Indian officials accompanying the squad said their pleas went unheard. For Gill, who stands out in the mud-wrestling circuit for his wrestling skills and trademark ear-covering patka, it was a heartbreaking turn.
“I told the referee that I have long hair and I need to tie it with the patka. I tried convincing everyone there that this is for a religious purpose. Even my coach tried talking to everyone but nothing worked. They did not allow me to compete with it,” said the man who is more popular as “Jassa Patti” on the dangal circuit.
Gill, has hundreds of Facebook fan pages, is an inspiration for many Punjabi pop songs and a superhero for children sporting his tattoos. By his own admission, he made close to Rs 1 crore in prize money last season and his career earnings include three Alto cars, 70 Bullet motorcycles and two tractors.
It was Gill’s dream to represent the country that persuaded the Punjab Police Constable to join the national camp. But there was “no way” he could wrestle without his patka.
“I told the coach that even if I wrestle, my mind wouldn’t be there. I wouldn’t be able to wrestle… It was according to rules. So many Sikh wrestlers have been there and this is probably the first time it has happened. I was disappointed but I cannot do anything now,” Gill said.
The chief coach of India’s freestyle team, Jagmender Singh, said he tried his best to push the case. “We tried all we could but they wouldn’t understand. When I told them that he has long hair, the director said that even girls who have long hair are wrestling here. They said that if he can compete with his hair tied, he could wrestle,” he said.
The Turkey Wrestling Federation, however, denied any hand in the incident.
“It was not our fault. There was a delegation from UWW to conduct the tournament and all the rules were applied. It was not in our hands to change those rules. The Wrestling Federation of India should ask UWW why their wrestler was not allowed to compete,” a spokesperson of the Turkish federation said.
The UWW, meanwhile, said they were helpless. “We haven’t received any complaints from India, so we cannot say anything,” the UWW said in a statement.
The Wrestling Federation of India, meanwhile, is in the dark. “We don’t have any knowledge of this incident,” Vinod Tomar, the secretary, said.
Prabhpal Singh, an Indian international wrestler in the Greco-Roman style, competes wearing a patka but said he has never faced any problem. “I have competed internationally and this is the first time I am hearing about such an incident. We are allowed to wear a patka because it cannot harm any other wrestler,” Singh said.