The only time the Deaflympics and its participants have been in the news so far is when they were unceremoniously left hanging at the Delhi Airport upon their return from a successful campaign. While the names of most of the differently-abled medal winners are lost in the cycle of obscurity, the one name that might ring a soft bell is that of wrestler Virender Singh.
The 32-year old grappler is affectionately known as the “Goonga Pehelwan”. The man who can neither hear nor speak is one of India’s most successful and accomplished wrestlers. While other stalwarts of the sport like Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar have enjoyed a certain amount of fame and recognition, the limelight seems to masterfully ignore Virender Singh
Seven international medals which include three golds is no mean feat. However, looking at the conditions Virender presently lives in, it is difficult to connect the man with the glory he has achieved for India. A recent photo series India’s unsung wrestler by the Hindustan Times highlights the sad treatment India metes out to its sportspeople.
“He shares a bare, cramped room with four single beds, a wire to hang clothes, a wooden shelf with shoes and a big ledge for all his trophies. The room which is inside a small akhada is often pierced by a noisy railway line that stretches across the heart of Delhi’s Sadar Bazar market,” the story reads.
The immediate reaction one gets from this is that the sporting federations have failed the cause of differently abled sportspeople. Yet, this is not the first time Virender has been snubbed by the corrupt bureaucracy of these authoritarian bodies. In 2005, Singh participated in the Deaflympics. Ideally, he should have been sponsored but the trip to Australia required him to spend Rs 70,000 from his own pocket. He ended up winning the first Gold medal in that tournament but no recognition followed. 12 years on, the story has remained the same.
“Through these years, with no other avenue of income or support from the government, Virender had to resort to participating in village dangals to support himself. A win would get him between Rs. 5000- Rs. 20,000. It also meant frequent travels to far-off villages in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, often on rickety buses and trains.”- Hindustan Times.
In 2016, Singh was awarded the Arjuna Award, one of the country’s highest sporting honours. And yet, he and athletes like him were snubbed by officials upon their return from the 2017 Deaflympics.
“I raised India’s prestige internationally with my win but here no one cares. Whether someone watches or not, I have done my work,” conveys the wrestler with a touch of hopelessness.