Virendra Singh aka Goonga Pehelwan is among the most accomplished wrestler of India. This deaf and mute wrestler has brought glory to India by winning 7 international medals, including 3 golds but earns mere Rs 28,000 per month as a junior coach. The plight of this extremely talented wrestler is so heart-breaking that despite bringing so many laurels to the nation, this sportsman cannot even afford a house or a car.
According to a report by Hindustan Times, ‘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 is inside a small akhada next to a noisy railway line in the heart of Delhi’s sadar bazaar market’.
Born in Jhajjar’s Sasroli village, Virender never attended school because of his impairment. Singh went unaided as there were no means to teach him or his family, sign language. His father Ajay Singh, a wrestler who worked for CISF (Central Industrial Security Force) brought him to Delhi for treatment of a foot injury. On the advice of a friend, Ajay Singh admitted Virender to a school for hearing and speech impairement. At the same time, Virender also started training under father and uncle.
It is evident that the impaired yet determined wrestler didn’t get government support. He spent Rs 70,000 out of his own pocket at Deaflympics in Australia (2005) where he won his first international gold medal. But the victory didn’t bring him recognition or make things easier. In fact, at that time government had no provision to provide cash prizes to differently-abled sport stars. While other Olympic winners received more than Rs 5 crores from several governments, states and sports associations, Virender didn’t receive anything significant for years from his own nation.
With no financial support from government, he had to resort to participating in village dangals which fetched between Rs 5000-20,000.
To his dismay, Singh signaled in an interview, “If I could speak, I would have fought for the rights of sports people like me.” “I can’t hear or speak. But that should not mean that my story should not be heard),” he said with hurried gestures. In 2013, three young filmmakers, shocked at the very unfortunate plight of his life, produced a documentary on him.
The film grabbed attention of masses and brought him his fair share of national attention. Consequently, in 2015, the sports policy was amended to make speech-impaired winners eligible for government cash prizes. However, they still get only one fifth of the money as compared to fit and healthy (not physically disabled) sportspersons.
In 2016, Virender Singh was awarded with Arjuna Award, India’s highest sporting honours. ” Still, most people in the country don’t know me,” he repents.
He recently returned with a gold medal from another Deaflympics in Turkey and India won 4 medal in total – gold and bronze in wrestling, silver in golf and bronze in lawn tennis – its best ever performance. But no one from the sports federation and sports ministry came to receive them at the airport, as per the usual norm.
How Virender went unaided for all these years is indeed a shameful reminder of our flawed sports authorities which aim to promote sports but are ironically far away from the ground realities. Much double standards!