For the last two days, former Indian basketball player and Arjuna award winner, Sajjan Singh Cheema, has been contacting fellow Arjuna and Padma award winning sportspersons in Punjab to make them rally in support of protesting farmers and return their awards to the President.
Cheema has so far got the support of more than 30 former Olympic and continental medal winners, including members of 1980 Moscow Olympic gold medal winning Indian hockey team Gurmail Singh and Surinder Singh Sodhi. The group now plans to write to President Ram Nath Kovind on Wednesday to seek an appointment for December 5.
“I and my three brothers, Balkar Singh Cheema, Kuldeep Singh Cheema and Gurmeet Singh Cheema, have represented India in basketball and all of us could achieve national and international glory due to the efforts of our father Surjit Singh, who owned 20 acres of land in village Dabulian near Kapurthala. Kisaan desh da hi nahi par khidarian da ann data vi hai and asi sare is ladhai ch ohna de naal hai…Ina bills ch ek badbu aa rahi hai jo kisaana nu changi nahi lag rahi. (A farmer provides food not only the country, but also to players and we all are with them in this fight. The bills reek of something bad for the farmers…,” shared 63-year-old Cheema, who spoke with The Indian Express from private ward of a Jalandhar hospital.
Cheema, who was part of Indian basketball team in 1982 Asian Games and retired as SP with Punjab Police, added: “I had suffered from Covid-19 last month and was suffering from high fever since last night. I have just come out of ICU and I hope that I will recover in time to join all the players in returning the awards to the President. So far, more than 30 players have joined our initiative and we are getting calls from players from Punjab as well abroad and players like former world bodybuilding champion Prem Chand Degra have joined today.”
While a three-member team of central ministers started talks with farmers’ representatives on Tuesday afternoon, farmers and farmers bodies have not stopped the protests and are demanding the full withdrawal of the three farm laws. Former wrestler and Padma Shri and Arjuna awardee Kartar Singh is also among the sportspersons, who have decided to return their awards. He said that farmers have been protesting peacefully since the last five months and the central government should listen to the farmers and rollback the bills.
“Sade kissan sade pariwar ne…te je kisaan dharne te baithe ne, is da matlab hai ki asi vi ohna de naal han. (Our farmers are our family and if the farmers are protesting, then it means that we are also with them). The way the farmers were stopped and teargas shells and water cannons were fired upon them is not a step meant to be taken in a democracy. The protests are also not about farmers of Punjab alone. There are Bihari migrants working in Punjab who have less land in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh and these farm bills will also affect them in an adverse way,” said Kartar.
“MSP and the arthiya system cannot be done away with in a whiff. I remember how my father Karnail Singh tilled our 20 acre land and would also borrow money from the arthiyas to support my practice and training. Palwaan di taqat piche kisaan da bahut wada hath hai (Behind a wrestler’s strength, a farmer’s hand is always there),” he added.
Former Indian women’s hockey team captain Rajbir Kaur and her husband, Gurmail Singh, member of 1980 Moscow Olympics gold medal winning Indian hockey team, apart from 1982 Asian games bronze medallist Balwinder Singh, Harcharan Singh Boparai, member of 1975 Hockey World Cup winning Indian hockey team, and others, have also decided to return their Arjuna awards.
“I too come from a farming family and during my playing days too, I played in many tournaments organised by farming community when I was not playing for the Indian hockey team. The farmers are not demanding something illegal or wrong…. All our medals and awards become worthless for us if our farmers are not respected,” said Kaur, who was member of the Indian team which won gold medal in 1982 Asian games and bronze medal in 1986 Asian Games.
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