Gold at Special Olympics, Ignored in India

by parineeti lal

Rajbir Singh, at 17, double gold medallist in cycling at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in the Los Angeles made the country proud in a world event. The Ludhiana resident got a hero’s welcome when he landed in Chandigarh. Two years later, his family is yet to receive a bulk of the cash prize promised to Rajbir after his win.

What was the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in the Los Angeles about?

The 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games were a multi-sport event for athletes with intellectual disabilities held in Los Angeles, United States from July 25 to August 2, 2015, in the tradition of the Special Olympics movement. These Games, hosting around 6,500 athletes from 177 countries, marked the first time in sixteen years that the biennial Special Olympics World Summer Games have been hosted by the United States, and the second hosted by Los Angeles since 1972. The medal tally was led by the United States followed by China and India respectively.

Rajbir suffers from a disability, with below-average intellectual and adaptive functioning.

The Indian scenario concerning Olympics

India has been sending contingents to Olympics every four years like most countries. The contingents are getting larger and larger. Abhinav Bhindra’s 2008 feat, happens to be the only individual gold medal in Indian Olympics history.

For a 1.25 billion plus nation, whenever there is an event in the international arena like the Olympics or some World Cup with most nations of the world participating, we all wonder whether India shall get its gold medal in an individual sport. In a team game we have managed several golds in sixty years from 1920-1980 in hockey during India’s golden run in the game.

So starved are we of individual gold medals that when an Abhinav Bhindra, so far the only one who has won an individual gold in the Men’s 10 metre air rifle event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, we are still basking in its glory.

Boxer Vijender Singh, Wrestler Sushil Kumar, Saina Nehwal, Pugilist Mary Kom, Sakshi Malik, P. V. Sindhu , Rajyavardhan Rathore have all won Bronze medals and the last two silver.

Yet Gold has always been elusive.

The unfulfilled promises

Rajbir Singh achieved this laudable feat with only one month of training before the event. That too after a local businessman donated a professional cycle to him. Rajbir, battled ‘below average intellectual and adaptive functioning’ to win the 1 km and 2km cycling events, gold medals in both events.

In 2015, Rajbir was promised Rs 15 lakh by the then SAD-BJP government in Punjab for his achievements. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, had a ceremony where he honored him. He also announced an additional prize of Rs 1 lakh. In addition he was given an additional Rs 10 lakh by the Union government but the amount has not matured and is in the form of bonds (strange gift).

The woes of a champion

On a high note after the win and with the assurance of promises, Rajbir and his family kept on going with their routine life. It was indeed a struggle earlier too but the achievements brought hopes. After a few months when things got bad, Rajbir was forced to work as a daily wage labourer along with his father to make ends meet. Together, the duo earned Rs 400 a day, just enough to feed the family.

Balbir Singh, a daily wage labourer, carries a bundle of papers wherever he goes. The papers are proof that his differently-abled son, Rajbir Singh, a double gold medallist in cycling at the 2015 Los Angeles Special Olympics, made the country proud by winning two gold medals in the event.

Three years after his win, the family is yet to receive a bulk of the cash prize promised to Rajbir after his win! The Punjab government had announced Rs 15 lakh for each of the gold medals he won, while the Central government promised the Singh family Rs 10 lakh.

A good Samaritan comes to his aid

In May 2017, Gurpreet Singh, founder of NGO Manukhta Di Sewa, came to know about Rajbir’s tale and decided to help him. He received a shock that the Nation did not care for champions like him when they should be honored and given the rewards that rightfully belonged. Gurpreet took him to his NGO in village Baran Hara where Rajbir was given the task of serving the elderly (sewa). He also gave him a cycle and took care of his food and health needs.

Good man that he was, Gurpreet approached the local deputy commissioner to take up his case and provide justice but his requests fell on deaf ears. “I went to his coach and sports authorities in Ludhiana but no one helped,” he added.

Rajbir could not make any statement owing to his ongoing treatment and impairment. Gurpreet’s help was like a bolt from the sky. Rajbir’s father Balbir initially mistook Gurpreet for a government official and readily accepted his aid. On coming to know that Gurpreet was doing it his own will, both father and son were in tears. “He (Gurpreet) is a godsend. When Rajbir won gold medals I thought our bad days were over but I cannot comprehend why we had to go through such a terrible phase in the past two years,” says Balbir, still in shock.

Life’s battle conbtinues for Rajbir

“They (Rajbir and his father) have not even completed primary schooling. Even I don’t know what to do with these government documents (referring to the Rs 10 lakh bonds). I hope the child gets his due,” says Gurpreet.

Rajbir now pushes wheelchairs and does odd jobs at the NGO. “At least now he is not a labourer like me,” said Balbir with a heavy heart.

Abject poverty had halted Rajbir’s training, since the family barely has money for food. So, cycling, once a passion for Rajbir, is something of a dream for him as of now.

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s media advisor Raveen Thukral told the media, “We are not aware of this case as it is from before we took charge of the government. However, we will do whatever is needed to help Punjab’s sportsmen, including Rajbir, once we get details.”

This is one more of the sad stories that have become regular phenomena concerning our sports fraternity. Our champs show grit and determination and achieve something of note in international competitions. Despite all the hardships faced they put in their mite to earn for the country a proud name. By not giving them even the minimum that rightfully belong to them, it is a wonder how those in seats of power are able to meet their conscience when despite seeing the blatant neglect of these heroes and heroines, turn a blind eye to it.

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