Twenty-three-year-old Sarita Gaekwad, a resident of Karadiamba village in the tribal-dominated Dangs district is part of the four-member women’s team that won a gold medal in the 4X400 relay race at the Asian Games on Thursday.
Even as congratulatory messages flew in for her family, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani announced a Rs 1-crore prize for her, and the Veer Narmad South Gujarat University announced to give her a Rs 2 lakh cash award.
However, what her family of five needs most is a BPL card.
On Thursday evening, Sarita’s parents Laxmanbhai Gaekwad and Ramuben Gaekwad sat glued to the television set — bought only a year ago to watch their daughter’s performance at various sports events — along with her brother Daneshwar, sister Daksha and 20 other relatives, and watched her win the race in Jakarta, Indonesia, where the Asian Games have been organised.
The main occupation of the 700 people of Karadiamba village is farming. Likewise, Laxmanbhai grows rice, nagli (finger millet) and toor on his one acre land, which he shares with his brothers.
While Laxmanbhai and his wife are both illiterate, they directed all their earnings towards the education of their four children. Sarita is a second-year student at the Arts and Commerce College at Chikhli in Navsari district.
Talking to The Indian Express on Friday, Laxmanbhai said, “We have worked hard towards the education of our children. I have an acre of land where I work along with my wife. That is our only source of income with which we brought up our three children. My eldest daughter also helped me by giving tuitions. We had to borrow money from our relatives to get our eldest daughter married. We don’t even have a bank account.”
“So it was like a dream come true when Sarita won the race. I felt proud of all the hard work,” he added.
Daksha said, “Sarita is the youngest amongst us. We all sat in front of television and when her team won, the excitement was such that we all danced to celebrate. Even sarpanch Kalaben Bhoye and her husband Harshad Bhoye came to congratulate us.”
“We have not spoken to Sarita since yesterday (Thursday), but whenever she is free she will call us. She hasn’t visited home since May 2018, due to her busy schedule in training,” Sarita’s father said.
Sarita’s win and recognition by the state government has increased the hopes of the family for getting the BPL card.
“It has been a year since my father applied for a BPL card. But so far the officials have only been delaying the process citing different excuses. We live in a mud house with bare necessities. We do not even have a bike. The only source of our family’s income is agriculture. My father has been knocking on doors and approaching political leaders but in vain. Now we have decided that once Sarita comes home, my father will take her to the government office to get BPL card.”
On Friday, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani announced a Rs 1 crore talent award for Sarita. An official release quoted him as crediting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who as Gujarat chief minister started the Khel Mahakumb to recognise sports talent.
Meanwhile, Shivendra Gupta, the vice-chancellor of Veer Narmad South Gujarat University announced that Sarita will be the university’s brand ambassador and announced Rs 2 lakh cash award from the university.
Gupta said, “The reason for making Sarita our brand ambassador is that she comes from a humble background. Her success at the Asian Games will inspire other students to work hard.”
On Friday morning, Dang Congress MLA Mangal Gavit and other political leaders from BJP and Congress congratulated Sarita’s family on her success.