Three years ago in 2017, Rajvir Singh (21), a differently-abled youth from Siarh village of Ludhiana, was working as a labourer lifting stones and bricks with his father, earning Rs 400 a day. It was then that Gurpreet Singh, who runs — ‘Manukhta Di Sewa’ — a shelter home for the elderly and differently-abled at Baran Hara village, decided to help and hired him as a caretaker.
At the shelter home, he would push wheelchairs, feed and bathe the residents and do other odd jobs. That is how Rajvir — who had won two gold medal in cycling at the 2015 Los Angeles Special Olympics — made ends meet.
Today, Rajvir is battling a serious condition at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Deepak Hospital in Ludhiana. His father Balbir Singh, who works a daily wager, and mother Rajinder Kaur, a sanitation worker under the MGNREGA, have appealed for help after their inability to afford their son’s treatment. Balbir said what hurts him the most is that his son’s medals, which he earned for the country, “failed to move the conscience of” successive governments in Punjab and even after five years of his son’s feat, the promised prize money of Rs 15 lakh for each medal by the state government, has not reached them.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Balbir said that in 2015, when his son had won two gold medals in the Special Olympics and made the country proud, a prize money of Rs 30 lakh (Rs 15 lakh for each medal) was announced for his son. “We got Rs 10 lakh from the central government which we used to make our small house. But without any job, we had nothing to do so we worked as labourers. But Gurpreet Singh from Manukhta Di Sewa was kind enough to give shelter to my son and said he will not allow a double gold medalist to work as a labourer. It has been five years but we have not received a single penny of the promised cash prize by state government. It is not about money now, it is about my son’s health and if something happens to him, the government will be responsible for it. Seeing my son in this condition, I now feel that it would have been better if he had not won any medal. His achievement was treated like trash by politicians and this affected his mental health. From Badals to Navjot Singh Sidhu and Captain Amarinder Singh, everyone promised help but actually no one did anything,” said his father.
Balbir still remembers his and Rajvir’s last visit to the office of Ludhiana deputy commissioner and the chief minister’s office in Chandigarh to enquire about the status of the pending Rs 30 lakh cash prize, in July this year. “At the CM’s office, we were told that government was yet to clear the policy for rewarding Special Olympics medal winners. We were assured it will be done soon. It has been five months, my son is again on death bed after a brain surgery in January this year. Rol ditta sarkaara ne saanu. Mere putt de medal, ohdi mehnat mitti kar ditti (Governments have ruined us. My son’s medals, his hard work were dismissed),” he rued.
Dr Dipesh Batra, neurosurgeon, Deepak Hospital Ludhiana, said that Rajvir is suffering from severe epilepsy and admitted in the ICU. “Rajvir is on ventilator. His family is financially weak and cannot afford his treatment so ‘Manukhta Di Sewa’ is bearing the expense of his treatment. But if he continues to remain in the ICU, his medical expenses will grow. He is on medication that will cost a lot.”
In January, Rajvir had undergone brain surgery and his father said that the expense of nearly Rs 10 lakh was borne by ‘Manukhta Di Sewa’. “The government did not do anything for us. This is how my son’s achievement and his medals for the country have been treated. Kuch ni kitta sarkaaran ne saada. It has been ten days now that he is again admitted in the hospital. I now spend entire day sitting in hospital while his mother tries to earn some money by working as a domestic help,” said Balbir Singh.
Gurpreet Singh said they have spent close to Rs 1 lakh on Rajbir’s treatment and they will not abandon him. “His father is a labourer and cannot afford his treatment. We will keep supporting the family till we can but the family is in need of more help,” he added.
Why Special Olympics medal winners in Punjab are still waiting cash prize — ‘A policy still pending notification’
Paramjit Sachdeva, executive member, Punjab Chapter of Special Olympics, said that the draft policy for Special Olympics children medal winners, which was approved by former deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, is still pending for notification, due to which the money lies stuck. “Even the current Amarinder government has failed to issue the notification, due to which the medal winners from Punjab have not received their cash prize. Haryana government has already paid Rs 20 lakh for each gold medal to their children while Punjab hasn’t issued the notification yet. Rajvir is admitted in serious condition at the hospital now and his family is in dire need of financial help,” said Sachdeva, based in Hoshiarpur.
When contacted, Punjab Sports Director DPS Kharbanda said that the policy to make Special Olympics medal winners eligible for state government’s cash prize was still “under consideration”. “This year we have kept aside Rs 15 crore for rewarding sportspersons winning medals in different events including Para Olympics. However, the policy to give cash prize to Special Olympics medal winners is still under consideration. I will get Rajvir’s case checked by local sports officials in Ludhiana and help his family in every way possible,” he added.
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