Rajvir, who was suffering from epilepsy and other issues since childhood, had undergone brain surgery in the past. (Express Photo)
LIFTING STONES and bricks with his father for Rs 400 a day, and later working as a caretaker at a shelter home for the differently-abled, pushing wheelchairs, feeding, bathing inmates — this is how Rajvir Singh (21) from Siarh village of Ludhiana, who had won two gold medals at the 2015 Special Olympics in Los Angeles, provided for his family.
Six months after Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh promised him help in a video posted on Twitter, and five years after he won his medals in cycling, Rajvir, who suffered from an intellectual disability due to a brain-related ailment, died at the Christian Medical College and Hospital (CMCH) Ludhiana Wednesday after being on ventilator support for nearly a month. His cash prize of Rs 30 lakh (Rs 15 lakh for each medal), promised by the then SAD-BJP government in 2015, is yet to reach him.
His heartbroken father Balbir Singh, a labourer, who cremated his son at their village on Thursday, said: “My son’s achievement was never valued or honoured by the Punjab government — not when he was alive, nor after his death.”
“For five years after he won the two gold medals in 2015, we were only given promises. First the Badals, then Capt Amarinder Singh and Congress leaders such as Navjot Singh Sidhu, everyone promised to help and get my son’s pending cash prize amount released but no one did anything. Politicians and governments dishonoured my son’s achievement. We ran from pillar to post — from CM’s office to district administration offices in Ludhiana — but my son died without getting his due honour and prize money. The governments and politicians must remember that we were not begging or asking for any favour, it was my son’s right. Promises were made to him and they were never fulfilled. In fact, my son got more ill and depressed because he was carrying the burden that despite his achievement, his family was living hand-to-mouth. It would have been better if he had never gone for this tournament and won the medals because what followed was an ordeal,” he added.
Rajvir, who was suffering from epilepsy and other issues since childhood, had undergone brain surgery in the past. On December 18, he was admitted to Deepak Hospital in Ludhiana, and then referred to CMCH on January 4 after his condition deteriorated. He remained on ventilator support for nearly a month before succumbing to a severe brain infection. “We cleared bills of nearly Rs 5 lakh in both hospitals as his father is very poor and could not afford his treatment. In fact, not us but the sangat contributed and helped us get him treated. But the saddest part is that we could not save him. It is not about money but the way his achievement was treated by the governments…it is sad and condemnable. Maybe Guru Nanak wanted us to help him and we did,” said Gurpreet Singh from NGO ‘Manukhta Di Sewa’, who had offered Rajvir work at the shelter home, and was taking care of Rajvir’s medical expenses for the past few years.
Just 15 years of age when he won the two golds in cycling and made the country proud, Rajvir could only compete in Los Angeles after a businessman from Ludhiana donated him a cycle.
After his victories in the Special Olympics had come several promises from politicians in Punjab — from SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal announcing Rs 15 lakh for each gold medal as cash prize during the SAD-BJP tenure to Amarinder promising a dedicated policy for Special Olympics medal winners and even Navjot Singh Sidhu assuring financial help.
In a tweet posted on July 25 last year, Punjab Sports Minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi had posted a 58-second video in which Amarinder said: “I have been told about Rajvir Singh. He is in acute depression…He won two gold medals in cycling in the Special Olympics held in the US in 2015…He and other medal winners were not given any benefit by the government which we give for other (tournaments) such as Olympics, Asian Games and Paralympics…I have got to know that there is no government policy in place for Special Olympics winners. I am directing the sports department to frame a policy for Special Olympics winners so that we can give these medal winners their pending dues…”
Sodhi had posted the CM’s video, tweeting, “I sincerely appreciate the directive of Hon’ble CM @capt_amarinder Ji, for #Punjab to have new policy drafted for the winners of special Olympics on the same lines as #ParaOlympics. My department will actively initiate this welcoming proposal to benefit our sportsperson.”‘A matter of great shame’
Paramjit Sachdeva, executive member, Punjab Chapter of Special Olympics, said that the draft policy for Special Olympics children medal winners, which was approved by former deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, is still pending for notification, due to which the money lies stuck. “It is a matter of extreme shame for the Captain government that a special child who won medals for the country, has died without getting his due honour and cash prize. More so, because these are the children who cannot even raise their voice for their rights and can’t understand these fake promises made by politicians. Rajvir’s father is a labourer, in no way could he have afforded his son’s costly brain treatment had this NGO not pitched in,” said Sachdeva, who had tweeted after Rajvir’s death: “Olympic gold medalist special athlete succumbed to Punjab government apathy. Captain Amarinder and Rana Gurmit Sodhi both promised to help him in their 25th July, 2020 tweet, which never came…#Shameful…”
“Punjab government could not issue one notification for these children in five years whereas Special Olympics winners got Rs 20 lakh for each gold medal in Haryana way back,” he said.
Balbir Singh told The Indian Express, “My son died in pain…Even when he was battling for life for a month on ventilator support, no one from the administration contacted us or offered to pay his medical expenses. Had it not been for ‘Manukhta Di Sewa’, my son wouldn’t even have reached hospital. Last time he spoke to me, he asked if he would be alright again. I had promised him that I will leave no stone unturned for his best treatment…My son is never coming back…Sarkaaran ne mitti ch rol ditta ohnu..,” he said.
While Punjab Sports Minister Rana Gurmit Sodhi did not respond to calls, state Sports Director D P S Kharbanda said, “The policy to give cash prize to Special Olympics medalists is still pending for approval and awaiting notification. I will direct district sports officials in Ludhiana to see if we can help Rajvir’s family in any other way for their financial needs.”
Asked why the family was not helped or contacted since Rajvir was admitted to hospital nearly a month ago, Kharbanda said, “I had spoken to the district sports officer of Ludhiana to check Rajvir’s case. I will get it checked again…”