People around the world pay tribute to their famed sportspersons and athletes. They are decorated with awards and other honors. They are remembered as the inspiration for the generations to come. However, in India, this is perhaps limited to cricketers. Other sports have been deliberately neglected, not only by masses but also by the concerned authorities. Even our native sports like Kabaddi are not given that much importance. Hockey, once much followed, is also a victim of this. The legendary persons related to these games are still to receive their dues. Our sports’ management and governments tend to forget their heroes and send them into oblivion.
The tragic life-story of Makhan Singh, a track and field athlete who brought glory to India in national and international forums, is an example of how much failings are on the part of our sporting system. The pathetic anecdotes of the forgotten sprinter paint a darker picture of sporting heroes in the country and hint on why Indian parents don’t encourage sports as a mainstream career.
Born in 1937, Makhan Singh hailed from Bathulla village, Hoshiarpur, Punjab. A contemporary athlete of Milkha Singh, Makhan was much famous for his victory over the Flying Sikh in the 1962 National Games of India in Calcutta. He bagged several gold medals in National Games, and also represented India in the Asian Games of 1962.
His first saw success when he won a bronze medal at the National Games in Cuttack in 1959. His good run continued in the next National Games, and he secured a gold medal in the short sprint, along with a silver in the 300 meters race. He was to continue this success in ensuing National Games, plucking a gold and a silver in 1960 events, four golds in 1962, and two golds and one silver in the year after. His one notable feat was the 1962 National Games in Calcutta where he recorded a sensational win over Milkha and claimed four gold medals. Also, he represented India at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta where he earned a gold in the relay and a silver in the 400 meters.
However, the wheel of Fate took a terrible turn in the life of Makhan Singh. In dire need of finance to support his family, Makhan Singh started truck driving in Nagpur. Sadly, he met with an accident and lost a leg there, which ended his athletic career. He did not receive any monetary aid from the government, and his family suffered in poverty.
To make his lot better, in 1995, Makhan Singh even opened a stationery shop in Chabewal, near his village. But he could not carry on it for more than four years as cycling on one leg was too exhausting. The fellow athlete, Milkha showed some allegiance and supported Makhan much during his bad days. Milkha Singh even helped him in getting a kerosene oil store. However, Makhan couldn’t earn enough to lead a decent life and died in 2002 of a cardiac arrest.
His family was left to bear in utter poverty after his death, and requests for pecuniary aid fell on deaf ears of the apathetic and corrupt officials. At last, it was in 2009 that Union sports minister MS Gill extended a help of Rs 3 lakh to Makhan’s family. Later, after a demand from the opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Sports Ministry provided further aid for Makhan’s widow and the only surviving son so that they could lead a respectable life.
Makhan Singh’s case showcases the apathy of sports authorities towards our former athletes. It brings to our notice the lack of a clear structure to ensure the financial security of the sportspersons. Lengthy delays happen in taking care of such cases and, in many cases, the relief comes after a lot of damage has already been taken place.
However, there are other factors too who are to be held responsible for such happenings. Media houses highlight only cricket and a few other popular sports, while other games like athletics and a majority of Olympic events fail to grab their attention. Consequently, this leads to lesser knowledge amongst sports lovers of these other fields and their masters. Also, lack of audience leads to lack of sponsors to support these games and their players.
The lesson learned from the Makhan Singh should echo in the ears of our sports ministry. It is high time that athletes in all fields are provided proper financial support and care by our government bodies so that athletes don’t have to suffer for daily needs after their sporting days. If this is not given care, we would not see more youngsters taking up sports as a career.
For Makhan Singh, a Subedar in the Indian Army, the National Games had special significance. He participated in all the Games from 1959 to 1964 and won a total of 12 golds, three silvers, and one bronze. After retirement, he toiled much to earn a livelihood. A person with diabetes, he lost his one leg to an injury. An Arjuna Award recipient, Malkhan Singh died unsung in 2002, and the debt is still on us.
If we are to become a sporting power on the international platform, we have to ensure that our athletes get full support in all their endeavors and financial backing to make sure a decent life afterward. We have to make sure that the story of Makhan Singh is not repeated and our great sports heroes get the support they deserve. Only then, we will realize our real potential as a sporting nation.