Three boxing legends Gurbax Singh Sandhu, Kaur Singh, and Jaipal Singh — Friday said they will return their awards to express solidarity with the farmers protesting against new agriculture laws.
Sandhu, a former national boxing coach during whose tenure India secured its maiden Olympic medal in the sport, is a Dronacharya awardee. Kaur Singh, a former Asian Games (1982) gold medallist is a Padma Shri and Arjuna awardee while 1986 Asian Games silver medallist Jaipal Singh is an Arjuna awardee.
Kaur Singh, who was bestowed with Arjuna award in 1982 followed by Padma Shri in 1983, will go to Jalandhar Saturday morning to join fellow former sportspersons, who will be going to Delhi to return the awards to President Ram Nath Kovind, if the demands of farmers are not met. The 71-year-old, who once fought boxing legend Muhammad Ali in an exhibition match in 1980 in New Delhi, owns four acres of land in village Khanal Khurd in Punjab’s Sangrur and has been pained by the government’s action over the protesting farmers.
“Awards mere liye koi matlab nahi rakhde jad tak kissan sadka te han (The awards don’t mean anything to me till the time farmers are on the road). Before I joined the Indian Army in late 1970s, my father Karnail Singh supported my boxing from the income from our farmland. All my achievements are due to the efforts of my farmer father. Even though I have been suffering from ill health since the last two years, I will join the other sportspersons at Jalandhar on Saturday and give them my awards for returning to the president,” said Kaur Singh while talking with The Indian Express.
While Kaur Singh represented India in 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, his team-mate Jaipal Singh was member of the Indian boxing camp for 1984 Olympics. The 63-year-old owns seven acres of agricultural land in the village Rup rohira in Sangrur district and has been following the farmers’ protests since the last five months. “Before starting boxing, I would often assist my father in our fields. I would accompany him to the mandis. Since then, while the price of oil has risen multiple times, the same cannot be said for the minimum support price. Along with the new laws, the farmers are asking guaranteed MSP by private companies. Many farmers in my village are still asking for suitable price for their farmland taken for national highways and such issues also need to be addressed. The Arjuna award is given for excellence in sports but the farmer in me has decided to give back the award to the central government,” said Jaipal Singh.
Gurbax Singh Sandhu, who served as India’s national men’s coach for over two decades before guiding women boxers for a couple of years, said he will be returning his Dronacharya award to show support to the farmers, who are protesting in “bitter cold without any consideration for their own well-being”.
“During my coaching career, I have seen many boxers coming from farming families and we all have achieved whatever we could due to the efforts of our families and contribution from the farming community as well. In the villages, farming community support many local level tournaments and also support the boxers and wrestlers financially. The government should listen to the farmers,” said Sandhu, who owns agricultural land in Raikot in Ludhiana district.
Sandhu was the national coach when Vijender Singh became the first Indian boxer to fetch an Olympic medal back in 2008. It was during his tenure that a then unprecedented eight Indian boxers qualified for the 2012 Olympics in London. Sandhu won the Dronacharya much before that in 1998.
“This award means a lot to me but the plight of my fellow farmers means even more. By returning the award, I feel a huge morale pressure is off me,” Sandhu said.
Earlier more than 30 former sportspersons from Punjab had decided to return their awards and had sought an appoitment with President Kovind for next week. Among them are Padma Shri and Arjuna awardee wrestler Kartar Singh, Arjuna awardee basketball player Sajjan Singh Cheema and Arjuna awardee hockey player Rajbir Kaur.
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