New Delhi: A day after receiving the Padma Shri from President Ram Nath Kovind, a hearing-impaired athlete from Haryana sat on an indefinite protest outside the Haryana Bhawan in the national capital Wednesday, seeking recognition on a par with para athletes from the Manohar Lal Khattar government.
Wrestler Virender Singh is a three-time gold and one-time bronze medalist at ‘Deaflympics’, and three-time medalist at the World Deaf Wrestling Championship.
In a tweet Wednesday, Singh said he won’t end his protest until the Khattar government recognises hearing-impaired athletes on a par with para athletes. He asked the CM why the state refuses to treat both categories as the same when even the Union government does.
माननीय मुख्यमंत्री श्री @mlkhattar जी आपके आवास दिल्ली हरियाणा भवन के फुटपाथ पर बैठा हूँ और यहाँ से जब तक नहीं हटूँगा जब तक आप हम मूक-बधिर खिलाड़ियों को पैरा खिलाड़ियों के समान अधिकार नहीं देंगे, जब केंद्र हमें समान अधिकार देती है तो आप क्यों नहीं? @ANI pic.twitter.com/4cJv9WcyRG
— Virender Singh (@GoongaPahalwan) November 10, 2021
The issue emerges from the distinction between hearing-impaired and para athletes. While the International Olympic Committee recognises the ‘Deaflympics’, the top sporting event for the hearing-impaired, these athletes don’t participate in the ‘Paralympics’.
The Indian government distinguishes sportspersons as open-category (able-bodied sportspersons), para athletes and deaf athletes. However, after an amendment in March 2020, all three categories receive the same cash award for winning medals in international meets such as the Olympics or world championships.
The Haryana government has separate cash award categories for the athletes.
Noting the difference in “treatment”, Ram Bir, a cousin of Singh who is sitting by the wrestler during the protest and speaking on his behalf, said the athlete received a cash prize of Rs 1.2 crore after his gold medal at the 2017 Deaflympics while gold-medalist para athletes were given Rs 6 crore.
Moreover, Ram Bir claimed that Haryana gives C-grade government jobs to deaf athletes and A-grade jobs to para athletes. ThePrint couldn’t independently verify this claim.
“We will be on the footpath till CM Khattar promises us we will have the same rights as that of para athletes,” Ram Bir told ThePrint, while arranging blankets for the night. He also highlighted that Singh had written a letter to the CM on the same issue in 2020.
Speaking to ThePrint, Haryana Sports Minister Sandeep Singh said the state gives the highest cash prize to deaf athletes as compared to others. “There are many states where deaf athletes are not even given government jobs. You cannot compare para athletes and deaf athletes,” the minister said.
Asked about the Centre’s policy, he said the Union government functions at a macro level. He added that the Haryana cabinet will take a decision in this regard after deliberation.
He also said the state government gave the wrestler a promotion after looking at all his medals.
‘Want to give Brazil Deaflympics our best shot’
Virender Singh sat in protest outside Haryana Bhawan at noon Wednesday. The move came less than 24 hours after CM Khattar congratulated the wrestler for his Padma Shri and referred to him as a “son of Haryana”.
यह समस्त प्रदेशवासियों के लिए गर्व की बात है कि हरियाणा के बेटे व फ्री-स्टाइल रेसलिंग के पैरा पहलवान श्री वीरेन्द्र सिंह जी को 'पद्मश्री' पुरस्कार से सम्मानित किया गया है। इस अवॉर्ड के लिए उन्हें हार्दिक बधाई एवं शुभकामनाएं। pic.twitter.com/wMcnbHE5Fb
— Manohar Lal (@mlkhattar) November 9, 2021
Singh, who hails from Sasroli village in Jhajjar district, took the decision to sit in protest as he found it better to raise the issue once and for all, according to Ram Bir.
“Wrestling is a sport where you need to rest and recover well. How much more stress can he take? All the training is done from our own expenses and we get no help from the state government,” said Ram Bir.
The duo sat with multiple documents in hand, including the central government’s cash award policy, the 2020 letter to the CM, and his sporting resume.
“The reason for raising the issue now is that the Deaflympics in Brazil are next year and we want to give it our best shot and not worry about things like these,” added Ram Bir.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)