The Sunday Story

Ramkaran Singh does not shed tears over his partial blindness. The 22-year-old athlete from Uttar Pradesh has experienced life in good times and bad.

He lost his vision in 1995 when his brothers were bursting firecrackers during Diwali. But he worked hard to claim the silver medal in the 800 metre event in the 2010 Asian Para-Games and two medals in the 2011 International Blind Sports Federation championships.

Hailing from Uttar Pradesh’s Behmai village, infamous for the 1981 massacre by the Phoolan Devi gang, Ramkaran is proud of his feats which fetched him the prestigious Arjuna award this year. Perhaps, this is the kind of spirit that prompted a small gathering of British World War II veterans 64 years ago to initiate a sports event for the disabled. With time, it transformed into the Paralympics, the ultimate symbol of inspiration for disabled people.

The games include events in a variety of categories including intellectual impairment, impaired muscle power, impaired movement, limb deficiency and ataxia.

The first-ever Summer Paralympics was organised in Rome in 1960 and found congruence with the Olympic Movement in the 1988 Seoul Games. The stature of the Paralympics has grown manifold-from the participation of 400 athletes in 1960 to 4,294 in 2012.

All the while, Paralympics has complemented the Olympics. The essential coexistence of these two events achieved a new milestone when ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorius, the South African double amputee who overcame a ban by the International federation (IAAF), competed with able-bodied athletes in the Olympics besides taking part in the Paralympics. In India, the attitude to disabled sportspersons is changing very slowly.

After H.N. Girisha bagged the silver in the London Paralympics, the Union Sports Ministry promised all possible support to disabled athletes. Sports Minister Ajay Maken took a novel step by offering Girisha a Cadre-I post in the Sports Authority of India.

However, job opportunities for disabled athletes under the sports quota are negligible.

This year’s Dronacharya award winner Satyapal Singh, highlights a different kind of neglect. “When a normal athlete wins an Olympic medal, you hear about cash awards. However, when a para-athlete wins, nobody cares,” says Satyapal.

The Paralympic Games in London received wide media coverage, more than ever before in the past. Unfortunately, the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) does not have a ‘clean’ image. It regained government recognition, first given in 2005, only last year, after a period of suspension, just in time for Indian athletes to compete in the London Games. The PCI is once again under the government scanner over alleged misuse of accreditation.

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