Rajbir Singh (17) who is a Ludhiana resident got a hero’s welcome when he landed in Chandigarh after winning two gold medals in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games which was held in the Los Angeles. But the fame proved to be for a short period of time and it did not bring with it rapid financial support.
Rajbir, who was ‘below average intellectual and adaptive functioning’ to win the 1 km and 2km cycling events, was pushed to start working with his father as a daily-wage laborer to make ends meet a few months after bringing laurels to India.
In 2015, Rajbir has assured Rs 15 lakh by the then SAD-BJP government in Punjab for his achievements. The then CM, Parkash Singh Badal, honored him and announced an extra prize of Rs 1 lakh.
Rajbir was given a supplementary Rs 10 lakh by the Union government but the amount is still not matured and is in the form of bonds.
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s media advisor Raveen Thukral explained the media “We are not aware of this case as it is from before we took charge of the government. However, we will do whatever is needed to help Punjab’s sportsmen, including Rajbir, once we get details.”
“My son is obviously is special to me. He feels dejected due to the indifference of the authorities. No one should be made to feel like this,” said Balbir, who now lives with his family of four in nine feet by five feet tattered house.
In May, Gurpreet Singh, founder of NGO Manukhta Di Sewa, came to know about Rajbir’s lifestyle and decided to be a help to him. “When I saw him, I couldn’t believe my eyes. How can an Olympian be humiliated like this? He was earning Rs 5,000 a month to support his family,” said Gurpreet. Gurpreet took him to his NGO wing in village Baran Hara where Rajbir did sewa (work) of the elderly. Gurpreet gave him a cycle and took charge of his medicines and diet.
Gurpreet then approached the local deputy commissioner but his requests fell on deaf ears. “I went to his coach and sports authorities in Ludhiana but no one helped,” he told.
Rajbir could not talk to media due to his ongoing treatment and impairment.
Gurpreet’s help came like a straw to the dropping career to Rajbir and his family. Balbir initially misunderstood Gurpreet for a government official and wholeheartedly accepted his aid. When he came to know that Gurpreet was doing it out of his own will, Balbir and Rajbir were in tears.
“He (Gurpreet) is a godsend. When Rajbir won gold medals I thought our bad days were over but I cannot understand why we had to go through such a terrible phase in the past two years,” said Balbir.
“They (Rajbir and his father) have not even completed there primary schooling. Even I don’t know what to do with these government documents (referring to the Rs 10 lakh bonds). I hope the child gets his reward,” said Gurpreet. Rajbir now pushes wheelchairs and does odd jobs at the NGO. “At least now he is not a laborer like me,” said Balbir with a heavy heart.
Abject poverty has been an issue in Rajbir’s training since the family barely has money for food. And so, cycling, once a passion for Rajbir, is now actually a thing he loved in