Wrestler Virender Singh, better known as ‘Goonga Pehelwan‘now has one Padma Shri to end his excellence
NEW DELHI: It wasn’t the best day to be in Delhi on Tuesday. Although it was a public holiday due to the Republic Day celebrations, some parts of the state capital saw unfortunate clashes between Delhi police and excited farmers. When the farmers’ “tractor rally” became violent, the police barricaded several arterial roads.
Despite the challenges, Virender Singh – known as “Goonga Pehelwan” – has not canceled his planned interaction with this correspondent in a cafe in South Delhi. A deaf and dumb wrestler and a legend of his own, Virender braved multiple distractions and route closures to reach the venue. He had traveled from his home in Delhi in Pul Mithai in Sadar Bazar, one of the protest sites in northeast Delhi.
A day earlier on Monday, Virender, a three-time Deaflympics gold medalist, had been selected as one of the recipients of this year’s Padma Awards – a Padma Shri. This made him the first of his community of deaf athletes to accomplish this feat. It was a massive recognition of his talent and the difficulties he had faced since childhood. It was a moment of pride for the entire sports community of diverse abilities.
Virender looked a little lost and a little tense during the interaction. The 35-year-old grappler was accompanied for 25 years by his friend Rambir Dagar, who is no less than his brother in Virender’s own sign language. When asked why Virender was tense, Dagar hesitantly informed that Virender’s son, who was almost a month old, was sick. During the interaction, Virender received several WhatsApp video calls from his wife, Anjali Singh, who was also deaf and dumb, inquiring about his son’s condition. In return, he assured her that he would be back with them soon. Despite the family situation, Virender was ready to commit and talk about his greatest accomplishment.
“He’s worried about his son’s health. But Virender is a strong character. He’s a fighter. He’s very excited about his Padma performance. The award was long overdue. It will encourage him to take part in the World Deaf Championships May perform well. ” in Turkey and the Deaflympics in Brazil later that year in December. He still has an unfulfilled wish – the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Prize. Hopefully his gold earnings performance in these two events will make him a strong competitor for the next year, “Dagar said after communicating with Virender in sign language.
Dagar said the turning point in Virender’s career came after he married Anjali, who was raised by her uncles in a village near Nagpur, Maharashtra. Both married on January 30, 2020. “Just a month after they got married, Virender received the good news that the central government had recognized Deaflympics and the worlds in this category as being on par with those competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. That got him to do so.” Now, just a month after the birth of his child, he was selected for the Padma Shri. It was the best phase for him, “said Dagar.
Virender’s journey since birth has been fraught with difficulties and is well documented in a 2013 sports documentary entitled “Goonga Pehelwan,” which is based on his life and struggles. He was born deaf and dumb, and it was his father (a retired CISF officer) Ajit Singh, now 62, and Uncle Surender Singh (an inspector at CISF) who played key roles in introducing wrestling.
Both were related to wrestling and had participated in several dangals across the country. For Virender, a career in wrestling was not a choice but a compulsion. Virender was born in Sasroli Village, Jhajjar District, Haryana, and was only eight years old when his father brought him to Delhi for treatment for a foot injury. Around the same time, Ajit had a traffic accident that severely damaged his left leg and put him in bed for several months.
Since he couldn’t take care of Virender, it was best to move him to his uncle’s quarters in Pul Mithai. Since Surender had to report to the CISF for service, Virender was transferred to Bal vyayamshala akhada at the same point where he was introduced to wrestling. Soon, when Surender coached him personally, the ‘Goonga Pehelwan’ began to compete in dangals in the town’s Mori Gate village and landed his first major trophy, the prestigious ‘Nausherwan’ title, winning 11,000 rupees in cash.
Virender’s transition from dangal to mat wrestling was just as seamless. He won gold in the 76 kg weight class at the Cadet Nationals in Haridwar in 2002 and was selected for his first international competition. However, due to its impairment, it was later dropped and selected second best in its category. That nudge left Virender heartbroken due to his disability, and he returned to Dangals to make a living.
In 2005 he did what no other deaf wrestler had achieved. His father and uncle found out about the Deaflympics and spent Rs 70,000 arranging Virender’s trip. He established their belief and returned from Melbourne with a gold medal.
However, the win did not bring any recognition or financial support. Since then, Virender has juggled between the Dangals and the Deaflympics and World Championships. Before the Padma Prize, the only recognition Virender received was the Arjuna Prize in 2016.
WHAT IS DEAFLYMPICS?
Deaflympics (formerly known as the World Games for the Deaf and International Games for the Deaf) is an event approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) where deaf athletes compete against each other at the elite level. In contrast to the athletes at other events approved by the IOC (Olympic Games, Paralympics and Special Olympics), Deaflympians cannot be guided by noise (e.g. starter rifles, megaphone orders or referee’s whistles). The Games have been organized by the International Committee for the Deaf since the first event in 1924. The Deaflympics take place every four years.