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Monday, September 27, 2021

Chandigarh: World Para Athletics bronze winner forced to work at a call center to make ends meet

Vinay Kumar had lost his father to Covid-19 on April 19 and with him running from pillar to post for cash awards and a job from the UT administration for the last three years, a desperate Kumar had to join the call centre at a salary of Rs 10,000 per month to earn a living.

Written by Nitin Sharma | Chandigrah |
Updated: August 28, 2021 10:54:24 am
Para athlete Vinay KumarPara athlete Vinay Kumar with Asian games and world championship medals. (Photo by Aastha Parmar)

For the last three months, 2019 World Para Athletics Championship bronze medallist and 2018 Asian Para Games bronze medallist Chandigarh athlete, 22-year-old Vinay Kumar, has been working in a private call centre at Mohali to support his younger brother and himself after the death of his father Ishwar Lal in April earlier this year.

Kumar had lost his father to Covid-19 on April 19 and with him running from pillar to post for cash awards and a job from the UT administration for the last three years, a desperate Kumar had to join the call centre at a salary of Rs 10,000 per month to earn a living.

“It has been a tough time for us. While I lost my mother Babli Lal in 2015, my father Ishwar Lal, who worked as an engineer in a private company, died due to Covid-19 in April this year. With no major finances left and without a job or cash award from the UT administration for the last three years and despite repeated visits and grievances on the UT Administration e-Window, I had to join a call centre in Mohali. I have to work two hours more than my eight-hour shift daily to earn some extra money to support myself and my younger brother apart from staying at my maternal uncle’s home,” said an emotional Kumar, holding back his tears and clutching his Asian and World medals tightly.

Kumar, who is suffering from an impairment in his left leg due to polio, initially started running on roads before he met coach Arvind Chahal, who was interning at Panjab University. Kumar went on to win the titles in 200m and 400m apart from a bronze medal in 100m, representing Chandigarh in Para National Championship in Panchkula in 2016. In 2017, Kumar won the silver medal in the 200m event in the World Para Athletics Grand Prize in China before he finished a close fourth in World Para Athletics Championships in London in 2017. In 2018, Kumar won the bronze medal in the 400m race in the T-44 category in the Asian Para Games in Indonesia, before winning the bronze medal in the 400m race with a timing of 55.49 seconds in the World Para Athletics Championship, Dubai in 2019.

While Covid-19 meant that there were no tournaments last year, this year Kumar competed in the Para Nationals in Bengaluru and won three medals — including two gold and one silver medal and missed the qualification for Tokyo Paralympics in 200m by a whisker. While Kumar appeared in the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) trials in March, the youngster had to miss the second trials in June due to the death of his father and financial struggles.

“I was in fine form after the Asian Para Games in 2018 and followed that with the bronze medal in the World Para Championships. It gave me the motivation to do my best. But the pandemic meant that there were no competitions last year. With less training, I appeared in PCI trials for 200m in March but could not appear in the second trials in June due to the death of my father and then my subsequent joining at the call centre job. I often eat expired food supplements nowadays to save money for my younger brother’s school fee as the cash award of Rs 10 lakh by the Central government in 2018 too has exhausted. When I had met PM Narendra Modi after the Asian Para Games in 2018, he had told us to not lose heart for winning a bronze medal and aim for the gold medal. But now, I have lost all hope,” says Kumar.

Coach Arvind Chahal has supported Kumar in whatever way he can but is disappointed at the treatment meted out by the UT Administration to Kumar. “It was for the first time that a Chandigarh athlete won a medal in Asian Games as well World Championships. Yet I am pained to see Vinay’s struggles. His haemoglobin count had dipped to 11 due to less intake of proteins and proper diet required for training recently. While Haryana and Punjab see a higher number of athletes and provide cash awards and jobs to medalists, Chandigarh sees one or two such medalists and yet such treatment is given,” said Chahal.

Tejdeep Singh Saini, director sports, Chandigarh, said that the department will try to include Kumar’s name in its new sports policy. “We are formulating a new sports policy soon and such cases will be included as per the criteria and policy for cash awards. Regarding the job, departments like Chandigarh Police have not done recruitment under sports for some time. We will try to include sports job quota too in the new sports policy,” said Saini.

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