Last Wednesday, when the Sports Ministry gave away cash awards to winners at international events in 2004, the only Indian to have won the gold at an ‘‘Olympic’’ was missing from the podium.
While the Ministry feted even winners at events like ten-pin bowling, it completely ignored Devendra Jhajharia — the one-armed javelin thrower from Rajasthan. On September 21, 2004, Jhajharia had hurled the javelin to a distance of 62.15 metres at the Paralympic Games in Athens, creating a world record. Before him, no Indian had won a medal at the competition. ‘‘It was a great honour to see the Tricolour unfurl at the same ground where the Olympics were held only a few days ago. Imagine, I was running in the footsteps of the great Steve Beckley,’’ said Jhajharia.
‘‘I was expecting a call from the Sports Ministry at the function. But they did not even recognise my achievement,’’ he said.
Administrator of the Indian Para Olympics Association, C.V. Raghunath told The Indian Express from Bangalore that Jhajharia and Rajendra Singh, who had won a bronze at the Paralympics, had been promised cash awards by Sports Minister Sunil Dutt when he met them in Delhi. ‘‘He had said the award would be on par with the winners at the Olympics. We don’t know why that promise was broken,’’ Raghunath said.
He added, ‘‘It is a shame that the Government does not encourage people who succeed internationally in spite of their handicaps.’’
While the Minister was not available for comments, sources said Jhajharia had been overlooked because the Government does not have any category for such winners.
Jhajharia’s father Ram Singh, a farmer from Jaipuria Khalsa hamlet, was upset that his son had been ignored. ‘‘Devendra is only a Class IV employee with the Railways. Our resources are limited. The governments keep saying they will give special attention to persons with handicaps. Look how they are treating my son.’’
The Rajasthan government, too, had announced a cash award and a flat for Jhajharia. ‘‘They gave us the money. But there has been no response to our queries on the promised flat,’’ Singh said.
For Jhajharia, who lost his left hand in an accident, such setbacks are routine. ‘‘It is part of life. I am still hopeful that the minister would remember his promise,’’ he said.