A day after several sportspersons threatened to return their national awards in a show of solidarity with protesting farmers, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) issued a call to treat national honours and the agitation as “two separate things”.
“Of late sportspersons are seen to be announcing return of their National Awards as a mark of their support for the recent farmers issue. National Awards and farmers issue are two separate things,” IOA President Narinder Batra and Secretary General Rajeev Mehta said in a joint statement on Monday.
“Every Indian, including us, loves and supports the farmers and we all would always like our farming community to be happy as they are the ‘Annadatas’ of our country.”
Two-time Asiad gold-winning former wrestler Kartar Singh — who on Monday led a delegation of Punjab athletes towards the Rashtrapati Bhavan to return their national awards — criticised IOA’s stance. “We and the farmers are one. As a budding wrestler, it was these farmers who fed me, organised village tournaments where I honed my skills, gave me cash awards. So their cause is our cause.
So how can our awards and their issues be two separate things?” the Arjuna and Padma Shri awardee told The Indian Express. Kartar, former India hockey captain and Arjuna awardee Rajbir Kaur and others were on their way to return at least 40 national sports awards in protest of the farm bills before they were stopped by security personnel outside the Delhi Press Club — less than five kilometres from the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
“We met the media at the Press Club and right outside the security people had put up barriers to stop us. We had already made our plans known to them through the media. We are respected athletes and all we wanted to do is a peaceful march towards the President’s residence. But they stopped us as if we were rioters,” Kartar said.
Kartar, a retired inspector general with the Punjab police, said that the forty-strong group was denied permission even though a security official from the Rashtrapati Bhavan had called and assured him that the delegation would be taken to meet President Ramnath Kovind. “First they told us we would be taken and then they did not. Now we have been told it will take a few more days to make the arrangements. We will wait and see but there is no question of returning back to Punjab without meeting the president,” Kartar said.
Earlier, India’s first Olympic medal-winning boxer Vijender Singh reached Singhu border on Sunday and told the protesting farmers that he would return his Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna – the country’s highest sporting honour – if the government doesn’t withdraw the “black laws”.
“I have trained in Punjab and eaten their bread. They have been protesting in this biting cold and I have arrived here as a son and a brother. Other athletes from Haryana wanted to come too but they have government jobs and fear repercussions. I am in touch with them and they are with our farmers,” Vijende said.
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