Other States

Differently-abled athlete in Pune forced to sell medals to pay bills

Anxiety grips Indira Gaikwad as she hobbles on her crutches in her matchbox-sized home tucked away amid the rundown tenements in the city’s Rasta Peth area.

A former State-level disabled sports champion, Indira, at 43, is fast approaching the deadline of 45 years for differently-abled sportspersons aspiring for a government job.

Crushed by the financial burden of looking after her 75-year-old ailing mother and the forgotten promises of State officials have pushed her into selling her painstakingly earned medals as scrap — an act she considers nothing less than sacrilegious.

“There is no other recourse as my mother’s medical bills have amounted to more than Rs.500 last month. The doctor, while sympathetic, is not inclined to discount,” she remarks.

“The government provides jobs to normal sportsmen. Why cannot it give me, a differently-abled woman, a small position? And I’m not even asking for the Class 1 and Class 2 posts,” she states while displaying her 35-odd medals and awards, bagged over the last two decades.

Struck by polio when she was 11 months old, Ms Gaikwad began actively participating in sports for the differently-abled in 1990, training by herself in the city’s Nehru Stadium.

“My father, who worked in the Raja Bahadur mills, was claimed by cancer. Since then, I’ve been fending for myself and my mother,” says Ms Gaikwad, who bagged the Shiv Chhatrapati award in 1994 in the differently-abled category — Maharashtra’s highest and most prestigious sports honour.

She has represented the State and the country in powerlifting, cycle-racing, shotput, discus and javelin-throwing, winning eight gold medals at various events in the process.

In December 2013, following local television reports highlighting her condition, Minister for Sports & Youth Welfare Padmakar Valvi was forced to dole out hasty assurances.

A cheque of Rs. 1 lakh was made out for “aiding in her sports activities”, namely diet and training.

“I am not interested in a one-time payment and accordingly told Mr. Valvi that I want a job. He urged me to accept it and promised me a job. So far, he has only been promising,” she says.

Ms Gaikwad and her mother, Shonubai, live on a combined income Rs.800 a month from the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Anudan Yojana. To make ends meet, she worked as a supervisor in textile factories, chocolate companies, only to be turned out on account of her disability.

“I had taken up stitching recently. But I eventually sold the sewing machine. Maybe suicide is a way out,” she says.

“A cricketer who merely manages to wriggle into a berth in the T20 matches earns in lakhs without scoring anything. The gulf between them and a humble though no-less-talented player like Indira is almost obscene” says Shyam Akolkar, a bank officer, who has been coaching Ms. Gaikwad free of cost since 2004.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 2:28:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/maharashtras-top-differentlyabled-athlete-sells-medals-to-cover-mothers-medical-bills/article6386465.ece

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