One of the sportspersons to win the Padma shri award on Monday is wrestler Virender Singh. Virender has been one of the best wrestlers from India who has won seven medals in twelve years, four of them being gold.
Famed as the mute wrestler or "Goonga Pehlwan" the 34-year-old wrestler cannot hear or speak. Born in Jhajjar district’s Sasroli village, Virender never went to school because of his impairment. There was no avenue to teach him, or his family, sign language and this often meant Singh went unaided. At the age of 10, his father Ajay Singh, a wrestler who worked for the Central Industrial Security Force, brought him to Delhi for treatment of a foot injury. On the advice of a friend, Ajay admitted Virender to a school for the hearing and speech impaired. At the same time, the young boy also started training under his father and uncle.
As they say, silence can speak a thousand words; which is especially true in the case of Virender Singh, the Goonga Pehelwan.
Congratulations to India's most successful mute and deaf wrestler for winning the Padma Shri award. pic.twitter.com/YFvQEEFy5e
— The Bridge (@TheBridge_IN) January 26, 2021
Waking up before the crack of dawn followed by a punishing 8-hour workout schedule, no vice and a single-minded focus has been Virender’s life ever since. He won his first gold at the 2005 Deaflympics in Australia, where he had to spend Rs. 70,000 out of his own pocket. But the win did not make things easier or bring the recognition his feat deserved.
At that time, there was no government provision for cash awards for differently abled sport stars. So, while other Olympic winners received more than Rs. 5 crore from various governments, states and sports associations – Virender received almost nothing for years.
Through these years, with no other avenue of income or support from the government, Virender had to resort to participating in village dangals to support himself. A win would get him between Rs. 5000- Rs. 20,000. It meant frequent travels to far-off villages in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, on buses and trains. Occasionally, there would not even be prize money, only fare reimbursement.
He has won gold medals at the 2005 Summer Deaflympics (Melbourne, Australia), 2013 Summer Deaflympics (Sofia, Bulgaria), and 2017 Summer Deaflympics (Samsun, Turkey). He has also won a bronze medal at the 2009 Summer Deaflympics (Taipei, Chinese Taipei).
Virender also won the World Title at the World Championship and has a gold, silver and bronze medal at the three World Deaf Wrestling Championships that he has been to. He won gold at 2016 World Deaf Wrestling Championship (Tehran, Iran), silver at 2008 World Deaf Wrestling Championship (Yerevan, Armenia), and bronze at the 2012 World Deaf Wrestling Championship (Sofia, Bulgaria). This makes it seven medals at the seven international events that Virender has been a part of.
In 2016, he received the prestigious Arjuna Award for his stellar contribution to Indian sports. Previously, he had received the Rajiv Gandhi State Sports Award, awarded by the Government of Delhi, India.
Virender's laurel from the Indian government was long due.