Everywhere he goes, Balbir Singh carries a bundle of black-and-white papers wrapped gingerly in a tattered polythene bag. The papers are proof that his differently-abled son, a double gold medallist in cycling at the 2015 Los Angeles Special Olympics, made the country proud by winning two gold medals in that event. It is also proof how the ‘country has treated its ‘special’ child, who now ‘works’, without any fixed pay, at a shelter for homeless elderly and disabled to survive and help his poor parents make ends meet. All this, just three years after 18-year-old Rajvir Singh’s spectacular Special Olympics achievement. The family also claims that even three years after the event it has not received the prize money promised by the state government.
Showing photocopies of Rajvir’s certificates, his farther said: “It was hard to see my gold medallist son working as a labourer with me. I can pick stones and bricks, but why should he? After winning the medals, we never got any job or any other decent work for him. So he started working as labourer with me. Together, we earned Rs 400 a day. Now, I have shifted him to a shelter for disabled and homeless. At least there he doesn’t have to pick stones and bricks. They give him food and place to live.”
Rajvir, who suffers from intellectual disability that is charaterised by below average general intellectual and adaptive functioning, was fifteen when he won his gold medals. A native of Ludhiana’s Siarh village, he hand gone for the event with minimum training, which only took off after a businessman donated a professional cycle to him a month before the event. Even then he bagged two golds — in 1 km and 2 km categories.
It was two days after his achievement that the news of it reached his parents, who did not own a television set or even a radio.
“Our neighbours informed us that ‘your son is on television’. I was so proud of my son who was always considered a burden by others due to his disability,” the father said.
At the shelter home, ‘Manukhta Di Sewa’, in Baran Hara village in Ludhiana, Rajvir now pushes wheelchairs of the elderly and disabled. He pours juice in glasses and rushes to serve it to the inmates. After finishing kitchen chores, he then sees if any of the inmates need help with changing their clothes or if other disabled children want to play carrom with him.
Despite suffering from short-term memory loss, Rajvir remembers cycling and his medals. “I am doing sewa here,” he says. Asked if he still rides a cycle, he adds, “I want to”. Rajvir’s training had stopped soon after the event as he had to help his father in earning for the family.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Gurpreet Singh, who runs the home for disabled, said: “Rajvir was working as a labourer with his father when we got to know about him a month back. So, we offered his father a small job for him. He works as a caretaker for physically disabled here…gives them food, helps them in bathing and does other odd jobs. We too have limited means and run on donations, but still we have decided to collect some money and give him Rs 5,000 as salary this month. It pains to see that how a child who brought glory to the country despite being intellectually disabled is left to fend for himself and his family.”
He questioned: “Which other family with a disabled child would encourage him or her to take up sports after seeing Rajvir’s example? Is this how we expect medals from our children, specially when they are disabled and need more support?”
Balbir Singh claimed that the family, even after three years, has not received the cash prize — Rs 15 lakh for each gold medal — announced by the state government.
“We received Rs 10 lakh from the central government. We did not own a house. With Rs 10 lakh, we purchased 17 marlas of land and started constructing our home. But it is now lying incomplete as Rs 400 a day is not enough to even get food. We never received Rs 30 lakh cash prize from the state government. Former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal honoured my son when he won medals and announced an additional prize money Rs 1 lakh. Of that too, we received Rs 50,000 only and that too after I ran from pillar to post. Some officials even demanded bribe for releasing Rs 50,000 cheque.”
When contacted, Paramjit Sachdeva, Area Director, Punjab chapter of Special Olympics, said that no money could be paid as the draft policy for Special Children Olympics medal winners, which was cleared by former Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, was yet to be notified. It is lying with the state’s sports department and awaiting notification, he added.
“Special children who won medals for their country are waiting for prize money because sports department of Punjab has failed to issue notification till date. Haryana has given Rs 20 lakh to gold medal winners. Punjab never had any policy for Special Olympic medalists, but we got it approved by Sukhbir Badal. It has still not been notified,” said Sachdeva.
Meanwhile, Rajvir’s father said that his son might not be able to continue cycling now.
“He can practice if he wants to, but who will take him to tournaments. I have no money left. Earlier too, I had no resources. I could not even afford a cycle for him but I did what all I could. I would force him to practice and he would cry. I knew his mental health, but something had to be done to make him grow in life. I would make him run and in the beginning his legs gave up after cycling a short distance, but I did not give up. Gradually, he started enjoying cycling and my hope grew that he would do something in life. But how long can a labourer afford to fund his son’s dreams?” he said.