INDIA’S FIRST Olympic medal-winning boxer Vijender Singh has joined the growing list of sporting icons who have thrown their weight behind the protesting farmers and threatened to return their awards to protest the contentious new agricultural laws brought by the Centre. The 2008 bronze medallist 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,” Vijender, who fought the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from South Delhi on a Congress ticket, told reporters.
He was not the only athlete to meet the farmers at Singhu border on Sunday. As many as half a dozen sports personalities from Punjab, including former India hockey captain Rajbir Kaur, were there to express solidarity with the farmers. They addressed a vociferous crowd, and will head to Rashtrapati Bhawan on Monday to “return their national awards in protest” if the laws are not repealed.
If the government doesn’t withdraw the black laws, I’ll return my Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award – the highest sporting honour of the nation: Boxer Vijender Singh #FarmLaws https://t.co/8Q5fVEmncC pic.twitter.com/imTATDZCei
— ANI (@ANI) December 6, 2020
Among those present at the protest site were 1980 Olympic gold-medallist hockey player Gurmail Singh, 2020 Dhyan Chand Lifetime Achievement awardee Ajit Singh, and two-time Asian gold medallist wrestler Kartar Singh.
Arjuna Awardee Gurmail told The Indian Express that he and his fellow athletes, including wife Rajbir Kaur, were infuriated when the farmers were lathi-charged and dispersed using water cannons on their way to the Capital.
“That was the breaking point. We cherish our awards but it’s a small sacrifice for the farmers’ cause. We love our awards but not more than our farmers,” said Gurmail, who says he’s a farmer first and an athlete later.
He said they have sent an application to the President’s office, seeking an appointment on Monday. If they are denied a meeting with President Ram Nath Kovind, the athletes would either leave the awards at the gates of Rashtrapati Bhawan or just hand them over to any passer-by, Gurmail said.
“I am from a farmer’s family and have worked in the fields. I understand their concerns and pains. We want to return our awards so that the government pays heed to our farmers,” he said.
Rajbir, also an Arjuna awardee and the only hockey player from the country to take part in four consecutive Asian Games, said there is no point in implementing these farm laws if the farmers are not happy. “Why were farmers not consulted? Why is the Modi government so adamant? We won awards because we trained with our stomachs full. If these farmers didn’t feed us, we wouldn’t go on to become athletes. If the farmers are not happy today, we don’t deserve to keep awards,” she said.