Virender Singh, the man who is so much more than just being the ‘Goonga Pehelwan’ – He is a man with a heart of gold

In a land that gave us the likes of kabaddi and dangals (wrestling), it is ironical to see that they are being overshadowed by sports such as cricket, just at the mere mention of which the entire country unites to cheer. And an even more unfortunate that great talents fail to find recognition owing to shortcomings that are no fault of their own. One such unsung hero is Virender Singh or Goonga Pehelwan.

Hailing from a little village of Baprola lying near the border between Delhi and Haryana,
Virender was dealt with a tough card in life – he is deaf and dumb. But like any true hero, he chose to rise above his shortcomings and pave his way to glory. He chose to follow his passion -wrestling. As put forth by an interpreter, the champion stated:

“This is the sport that I have always loved and it has given me so much. It it’s all that I have ever done right since my early childhood.”

And he did achieve that glory, only that, not many recognise or acknowledge that. Despite being differently-abled, Virender is as good as any wrestler. The most interesting part is that he can take down men twice his size as if it’s no big deal! He has made India proud on many occasions by bagging gold, silver, and bronze medals at international wrestling events.
He is a three time gold medal winner at the Deaflympics that was held in Melbourne (2005), Bulgaria (2013), and Turkey (2017). At the World Deaf Wrestling Championship, he bagged a silver medal and a bronze medal in 2005 and 2012, respectively. His wins speak of how great and talented a wrestler he is. And the greatest thing about Virender is that even after emerging as a winner in so many occasions, he is ever so down to earth. Once you get to know him closely, you will be amazed to see how humble the man really is. But the one thing that made Virender sad was that the government failed to acknowledge his talent. He spoke his heart out when he said:

“I have won so many medals but the government is still not supporting me which makes me really sad. If it supports me, I will be more inspired and perform better.”

Time and again, Virender’s efforts to represent India in prominent International events has been frustrated on the ground that he is deaf and mute, owing to which he cannot hear the whistle of the referee. But Virender is ready to counter that argument by stressing that he can fight just as well as an able-bodied wrestler with the help of tactile and visual clues.
The tables turned for the champion after ‘Goonga Pehelwan​’ came to the limelight. It is a biopic on Virender’s life, an attempt to glorify his incredible feats and bring him to his much deserved fame. Directed by Mit Jani, Prateek Gupta and Vivek Chaudhary, the biopic sheds light on the struggles of talented athletes like Virender Singh who despite their achievements fail to come under the spotlight.
Last year, at the TEDxAssiRd, 2016, both Vivek and Virender took the stage to talk about the life of the champion, how he got inspired to get into wrestling, about his struggles as a differently-abled wrestler, the discriminations that he faced, and ultimately how he brushed past every obstacle to become what he is today. The overall message that they spread through their talk is to encourage us to “Look at different ability differently.” You can watch their amazing talk here.

Vivek lauded Virender’s talent by saying:

“The national coach rates him as one of India’s best wrestlers but the federation has never allowed him a chance to qualify for the Olympics saying that he can’t hear the referee’s whistle. To be sidelined because of a hearing disability is a cruel irony.”

But even these aren’t enough to hold Virender back for he has his heart in wrestling. His commitment and dedication towards the sport is worthy of accolades. Unfortunately, the worst thing happened this very year. When the Indian Olympians returned to the country from the Deaflympics, not a single person was there to greet them! Is that the treatment they deserve after making the country so proud?

They secured five medals for India – Virender Singh secured gold in the 74kg freestyle wrestling;
Ajay Kumar and Sumit Dahiya bagged bronze medals in 65 kg and 97 kg respectively; Diksha Dagar won a silver in golf, while Prithvi Sekhar and Jafreen Shaik won bronze in men’s doubles tennis event.
Being insulted in such a way was not something the athletes could tolerate. They protested by staying put at the airport and it is a matter of great shame that only after their protest did they come to the limelight. Is this really how such great talents are supposed to make headlines?
Now, that’s something to reflect upon.
This is the sorry state of affairs for the people who have so much potential in them but are denied respect and recognition on the ground of their disability.
But we know the trouble you take to make India proud on the global platform. And hats off to you Virender, you’re a true hero! We hope you continue to shine just as the star that you are!

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