THE HARYANA government has appointed kabaddi player Kavita Devi and wrestler Babita Phogat as deputy directors in the Sports and Youth Affairs Department.
The move came almost six years after Devi (30) won a gold medal as part of the Indian women’s kabaddi team at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, and two years after she and Commonwealth Games gold and silver medalist Phogat moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court over not being given ‘A’ category posts as per the sports policy. Phogat had withdrawn her petition before joining BJP in 2019 and fighting last year’s state Assembly elections.
Soon after the high court issued notice in revival of their contempt petition, the Haryana sports and youth affairs department principal secretary issued two separate orders on July 29, appointing the two players to the post of deputy director (sports) under the Haryana Outstanding Sports (Recruitment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2018. Both players have to join the department within a month and comply with 15 guidelines including a bar on commercial endorsements.
Devi is a native of Padana village in Jind district. A five-time international medalist and a 17-time medalist for Haryana at the national level, she had to wait for more than six years to get the job, and fight a two-year-long court battle. She was part of the Indian women’s kabaddi team that had defeated Iran in the final at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
While Devi, whose father Ram Mehar Singh worked as a cart puller at her village, had got Rs 2 crore as per the amended sports policy in 2014, she said, “I could have not spoken after I got the cash award. But it was about getting my due from the state government. While most of the medalists of the Asian Games/CWG Games were given category ‘A’ jobs, some were denied and that’s why I approached the high court in 2018. During the four years after I won the gold medal at Incheon, I had expected to be given a job as per sports policy but repeated pleas with the government were of no avail. It was very frustrating for me and today’s appointment order has made me forget all the mental agony,” she said.
Devi had also won medals at the junior level in wrestling nationals from 2003 to 2005, while she pursued kabaddi at the CBSM Sports School, Nidani. After being a member of the Haryana team which won the silver medal at junior nationals at Jharkhand in 2005, Devi went on to play for the senior Haryana team till 2018 in a 13-year-long career in kabaddi, with her last international appearance being at Incheon in 2014.
In 2015, she gave birth to a daughter followed by the birth of another daughter early this year. “My father used to ferry goods on the cart in our village and it was on the insistence of director Daleep Singh Malik and former DGP MS Malik that I started wrestling. While I won medals in wrestling, I also tried kabaddi and winning medals brought joy to my father. I got married in 2010 and my husband Raju Shehrawat has been my pillar of strength. When I got injured in 2012, my coach Ranbir Singh motivated me a lot and winning the gold medal at Incheon was due to the efforts of all. Being appointed in the sports department, I am looking towards working for the betterment of sports in the state and also to spot talent from rural areas so that they can win medals at the international level,” said the graduate from Khalsa College, Yamunanagar.
Phogat became a household name in the country after the success of Hindi film ‘Dangal’, which is based on the lives of her and her sister, both champion wrestlers, and their father who coached them against all odds. Last year, she had lost in the state Assembly elections to independent candidate Somvir Sangwan for the Charkhi Dadri seat. Incidentally, she was a sub-inspector with Haryana Police and had sought appointment as a DSP. Reacting to the order, she said she would work for the betterment of players. “I am thankful to Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar for giving me this opportunity and I will aim to do my best under this new role. Our Sports Minister Sandeep Singh is working for the betterment of sports in the state and that will be our target. There are plenty of areas where we can excel further and I am glad that as a sports official, I can help the Haryana players,” said Phogat.
Asked in what areas she feels there is scope for further improvement, Phogat said, “As a sports person, I do not want that our players should face the problems that we had to face, be it related to diet, coaches or players’ practice.”
Devi had filed the case in Punjab and Haryana High Court in August 2018 after she was not given a job as per the 2013-2014 sports policy. “Haryana government had advertised for posts as per 2013-2014 policy in 2015, but in 2017, it changed the policy and sportspersons had to start the process of applying again,” said the kabaddi player’s lawyer, advocate Aftab Singh Khara.
In 2018, the government made it mandatory to get the form signed by the respective national federation but Kavita could not get the form signed due to election of the Kabaddi Federation of India and other issues in the federation. “In 2018, we approached the high court, and the court directed the Haryana government to get my documents verified within a month in 2019. When the department of sports failed to do so, we filed a contempt petition and the department got the forms verified and assured the needful would be done within four weeks. After a year, we again filed revival of contempt after no action was taken. On July 24, 2020, notice in the revival of contempt was issued, post which the Haryana sports department issued the appointment order,” said Khara.
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