Balbir Singh Sr's lost memorabilia: Family's search continues years after hockey legend's death
In the last 10 years, Balbir Singh's family members left no stones unturned to regain his memorabilia, which he had donated way back in 1985 to SAI.
"In your old age you want to be able to draw happiness from looking at what you have achieved in your life," late hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr had once said about his missing memorabilia.
In the last 10 years, his family members left no stones unturned to regain his memorabilia, which he had donated way back in 1985 to the Sports Authority of India. One of India's greatest hockey players who won three Olympic gold medals in a stellar career, Singh died in May 2020 after battling multiple health issues.
His missing memorabilia included an Olympic blazer, medals and rare pictures. It was donated to the SAI for a proposed museum which never saw the light of day.
"When coaxed, he would compare the pain of their loss to the passing of a close family member," Singh's maternal grandson Kabir said on Sunday recalling how the family has been moving from pillar to post for the last 10 years.
The family says they came to know that the items were missing when the International Olympic Committee's Olympic Museum wanted the Melbourne Games blazer to be a part of the official 2012 London Olympics exhibition. There he was honoured as one of 16 Olympic icons across all disciplines in 116 years of the modern Olympics.
"That is when we contacted SAI to get that blazer as Nanaji (Balbir Sr.) had nothing with him in London apart from Olympic medals. But SAI officials said that they didn't know about the whereabouts of the treasure," Kabir said.
These articles were part of our national sporting heritage, he added.
A group of lawyers from the Punjab and Haryana High Court filed many RTIs in the SAI office in New Delhi and the National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala, which revealed that the articles were indeed received by these authorities from Singh.
"We also have the original newspaper clipping with picture of the handover in 1985. If we didn't, then they would have just continued denying that national treasure of our country's sporting history were ever given," he said.
Kabir said after the hockey great died assurances were given by different authorities that the matter would be thoroughly investigated. Finally, an FIR was registered three years ago in Civil Lines Police Station, Patiala by National Institute of Sports.
"It was assigned to an assistant sub-inspector of police for investigation," said Kabir, adding no real progress has taken place.
"In September 2021, we approached the then DIG of Patiala Police Range, Gurpreet Singh Toor with the request that a Special Investigation Team of Punjab Police be set up to which the case could be transferred. "The specific request for an SIT was because by law an SIT is also empowered to conduct investigations outside of state borders. We are thankful to him that the request for SIT was approved and a three-member SIT headed by the then SP - Investigations (Patiala) Dr Mehtab Singh (IPS) was constituted," said Kabir.
"However, that was the last piece of good news, the SIT constituted in September 2021 has till date not even visited our home in Chandigarh to record our statements or take the RTI responses received onto record," he said.
"I will not deny that it is incredibly frustrating, but I will not give up." He said the family has requested for a meeting with Punjab Chief minister Bhagwant Mann to see if a time-bound investigation can be done. "I am sure that a proper dedicated investigation by a professional police force will help solve the case. If not, then we will knock on the doors of the judiciary," said Sushbir Kaur, Singh's daughter.
Kaur, the wife of a deceased Air Force Officer, said "as long as I am alive and my son after that, we will keep pushing for the answers". Kaur said it is unimaginable that how such precious things could be lost.
"This is the treatment he gets in his country, that he was robbed and there are no answers to it. Nobody is held accountable? "Missing means one or two articles, if everything belonging to one player goes missing, it points a very strong finger towards a conspiracy. The press or the people or the government have to find out the answers. "How and why it has been done? It isn't a straight answer," she said.