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Joginder Singh - Veteran Athlete Lives In Penury


Veteran Athlete Lives In Penury
by Ravi Dhaliwal

(Note: This articles dates back to 2000, there is a even a remote chance that Joginder Singh is even alive, but his story speaks for thousands others like him...)

Even as the Punjab Government's apathy towards ace athletes of yesteryears is being constantly highlighted, here comes the story of the State Government's insensitivity towards a 107-year old athlete, Joginder Singh, widely perceived to be one of the world's finest veteran athlete.

Joginder Singh, who has brought glory to the state and the country, taking part in scores of veteran international athletic meets and setting a world record and now a victim of government's pathetic attitude, also has a book written on his eventful life by a Punjab based IPS officer, IG Rajinder Singh. The book details his various achievements in the track and field events and has already sold more than 7000 copies.

Joginder Singh was born in Patiala on June 12, 1892 (the date mentioned on his passport) and his story is indeed a sad commentary on the state's affairs, which prides itself on the achievements of its sportspersons. Now the 107-year old athlete has been reduced to forlorn figure of his former self with no financial support forthcoming from the state government.

In 1998, when the Minister of Human Resources and Development, Mr M.M. Joshi visited the National Institute of Sports (NIS), IG Rajinder Singh brought to the minister's notice the pitiable condition in which Joginder Singh was living. The minister at that time, immediately asked the Executive Director of the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Maj O.P. Bhatia, provide financial support to Joginder Singh. However, things failed to move and nothing has been heard since then.

In the 1991 International Veterans Athletics meet in Turku, Finland, Joginder competing in the 95-plus age category, set a world record by clearing a distance of 4.51 meters in the long jump. There he befriended a former Russian minister, who was competing in the 60-plus category. After the meet, the minister impressed by Joginder Singh's feats took him to Moscow for a visit. However loneliness, lack of communication and the biting cold proved to be too much for Joginder Singh. After three days, he asked the former minister to send him back to Delhi. The minister, Joginder Singh recalls, immediately booked a flight for him and also gave him $300 in cash.

Joginder Singh won the gold in 100 meters, setting a record, in the Oceania world veterans championships held at Hastings, New Zealand in 1997. Competing in the 100 plus category he ran the race in 16.39 seconds. However, this record has yet to be ratified by the international body governing veterans athletics. At Hastings, according to a news agency report with Joginder Singh, he was the oldest of the 500 athletes by 20 years.

Joginder Singh’s son, Varinderjit, committed suicide in 1925 when he failed to clear an exam while his wife passed away at Patiala a couple of years ago. Now, Joginder Singh lives in abject poverty in a one room ramshackle tenement in a run-down mohalla of the old city. In order to afford atleast one square meal a day, he is dependent on small-time shopkeepers - some of whom are his old acquaintances - and on the benevolence of some police officers. His rapport with police officers may be due to the fact that he was in the police department, posted at Payal, Ludhiana, from 1945 to 1952. He cannot avail the benefits of pension as he did not complete 10 years of service.

Joginder Singh, who also took part in the freedom struggle, claims that he tried to meet the then Chief Minister Beant Singh and also Mr. Badal, but he was prevented from meeting them by the security officers. However he managed to meet Beant Singh at a function in Sangrur. Beant Singh asked a close aide to look into Joginder Singh's case and provide monetary support. Things started to look brighter as from 1992 to 1997, he started receiving Rs1,500 per month. But after 1997, this money was abruptly stopped by the government.

In 1993, floods swept away his trunk load of medals. He does not remember the number of medals won in international and national meets, but simply says they weighed between 6 to 8 kilos. His certificates and other household items were also washed away.

The roof of his room caved in as his neighbours say, it was IG Rajinder Singh, who visited Joginder Singh everyday and got the roof repaired.

In a voice choked with emotion and with tears slowly rolling down his wrinkled face, he says:

Only death will repay my debts. If the government has not done anything for me, at least it should ensure a decent funeral for me when I die.

These days Joginder Singh rarely goes out of his room with a cot surrounded by medicines and couple of old rusty trophies. A sad way to live for a man who brought laurels to his state and country. If a nation does not respect its heroes, past or present, the time will come when it will have none.


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Sikhs are busy worshipping fake godmen and celebrating making memorials of long dead leaders, while the present day role models they should follow are totally ignored. Politics is all that matters. No wonder the religious side of Sikhs in punjab is declining at an alarming rate while fanaticism and cultism grows with leaps and bounds. Parties like akali dal have gained power through achievemnets of Sikhs like these which are then totally ignored. Pathetic. The glorious days of Sikhs are going to be found only in books in distant future.


Marginalisation of a Veteran
Ravi Dhaliwal

The marginalisation of a distinguished athlete could not have been more complete as one watches India’s most famous veteran sportsman, the world renowned 110-year-old Joginder Singh, writhing in pain and dying a slow yet painful death with no help forthcoming from either the government or any non-government organisation (NGO).
So highly laudable have been the achievements of Joginder Singh in the world of athletics that his name and photograph figure prominently in last years edition of the Guinness Book of World Records for ‘being the oldest man on the planet to win a gold medal in the discus throw in the World Veterans Athletic Championships held in Berlin in 1998." Berlin is the same city where, exactly 81 years ago, Joginder Singh won a medal in an athletic meet in 1910 — once again a feat listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. As if this is not enough, a senior IPS officer, Mr Rajinder Singh, has written a 300 page biography in which he has given vivid details of the life and times of the veteran athlete and to top it, Joginder Singh has been feted by no less a personality than a former Deputy Prime Minister of the erstwhile USSR.

These days Joginder Singh has fallen on bad times and he barely has the energy to do anything else except to lie on his cranky cot in his one-room ramshackle tenement located in a dinghy ‘mohalla’ of the walled city. The cot is surrounded rusting cups, chipped medals, faded photographs and frayed clippings of various national and international magazines and newspapers. A solitary special police officer (SPO) stands guard at his `residence’ and the Rs 1500 he gets from the welfare fund of the Patiala police in not enough to make him meet his daily requirements. The cops are proving to be a benevolent lot as Joginder Singh once served the Police Department before retiring as SHO of the Payal (Ludhiana) police station in 1949.

Speaking in a voice heavy with emotion and anger, Joginder Singh reveals that keeping in view his achievements he has addressed several petitions to the state government for financial help but to no avail. However, the frail old man has some pleasant words for Mr R.S. Gill, Inspector-General of Police, Patiala zone who he says has been kind enough to provide him some aid.

Joginder Singh blames that fatalistic Indian thought — ‘kismet’ — for his present pitiable condition. He says "Had my son and wife been alive I would have ended my life by committing suicide. As I am all alone there will be nobody to cremate me". His only son Varinderjit Singh committed suicide way back in 1925 and his wife, Prem Kaur, died in 1995. Now, the SPO, with his friendly overtures and gossip, is his only window to the world.

Joginder Singh recalls how he befriended a former Deputy PM of USSR while competing in a meet abroad. So impressed was the Deputy PM that he took Joginder Singh along with him to Moscow. However, the biting cold was a bit too harsh on him and he returned to Patiala after spending a week in Moscow.

For nearly three decades Joginder Singh was the undisputed king in the world of veteran athletics. A cursory glance of his passport, which has been stamped with visas of nearly 23 countries, reveals that he was born in 1880 at Lahore. From Moscow to Melbourne and from Singapore to Sydney, Joginder Singh has seen it all but now, living amidst apathy and penury, there is just one thought that keeps on crossing his mind "Who will cremate me?"