Devendra Jhajharia – a beacon of hope or side show?
Who is Devendra Jhajharia?
On 13th September, Devendra Jhajharia became the second gold medallist at Rio Paralympics 2016, when he covered a distance of 63.7 metres in men’s F46 Javelin Throw event. This way, he also broke his own world record. The record throw was actually the third such attempt by the athlete. On the way to doing so he also defeated Guo Chunliang from China, who sits atop the global rankings in this category.
However, even before his world record throw he had been leading the field without breaking a sweat. There was never a doubt that he might not win his second gold medal in what is his second appearance in the Paralympics. The first time he had taken part in the event, in 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, he was only 24 years old.
Devendra Jhajharia Biography
A world record at the first go
In his first appearance at Paralympics, too, Jhajharia had created what was then a world record when he threw 62.15 metres. This was how he had become the first gold medallist in the event. However, his event – F46 – was not included in the subsequent Paralympics (Beijing 2008 and London 2012) and this was why he was unable to represent his country.
In a recent interview he likened the situation to waiting for Kumbh Mela. The classification known as F46 is meant for people whose upper limbs have been impaired because of some deficiency, whose muscle power is impaired, and whose range of movement is impaired as well.
The athlete, born in Rajasthan, has already been awarded Arjuna Award in 2004 and then conferred with Padma Shri in 2012. The left arm amputee is thus the first Paralympian to have received such a prestigious honour.
How his arm was amputated?
Recently, in an interview, the Paralympic gold medallist stated how his left arm had been amputated during childhood. As a nine-year-old Churu, Rajasthan, Jhajharia was climbing a tree when he caught a live cable of 11,000 volt capacity. He received a huge shock, which meant that his left arm had to be separated right away and there were not many people who were sure if he would even survive from the accident.
He decided to be an athlete because he was blessed – by his own admission – to still have an arm. He says that he feels better than people who have lost most of their limbs. He was already keen about sports and this acted as a spur. Ever since, he has gone from strength to strength overcoming all the barriers, negative comments, slurs, and the like, and turned every brickbat thrown towards him to a bouquet. His sterling performances have helped him as well. As per Jhajharia, a major turning point in his life was winning the district championship.
First major success
Jhajharia won his first major international medal when he was all of 21 years at the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled of 2002, organized in South Korea. This gave him the confidence that he has what it takes to win in events of such stature.
International standing and exploits
Jhajharia presently sits at the third spot in international rankings in his particular category. He has won the gold medal at Athletics World Championships organized by International Paralympic Committee (IPC) at Lyon in 2013.
Indians at Rio Paralympics 2016
Apart from himself, Jhajharia has immense confidence in the capability of other para-athletes representing India at Rio. He has predicted that the nation should win six to seven medals, and happily enough his predictions are on their way to be fulfilled, with India having bagged four medals already – two gold medals, one silver medal, and a bronze. This has been the best ever showing by Indian athletes at the event.
Now that Jhajharia has won so much, will he be regarded at par with the likes of Abhinav Bindra? The same is applicable for Mariyappan Thangavelu as well. Will their names be uttered in the same breath as Mary Kom, Sushil Kumar, Leander Paes, Karnam Malleshwari, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Vijender Singh, Saina Nehwal, Gagan Narang, Yogeshwar Dutt, PV Sindhu, and Sakshi Malik – ones who have won individual medals at Olympics for India, and are now regarded as torchbearers of Olympic sports in the country?
Will we be able to cheer for our para-athletes who keep on making us proud time and again and yet live in relative ignominy? Will the media consider them as being newsworthy? The biggest question is: Even if the answers to all these questions are yes, how long they will stay so? The tradition in India suggests that we will feel extremely proud of these glorious sons and daughters of the soil for about 10 days and then forget them for the lure of Indian cricket and club football in Europe.
This is the sort of treatment accorded to our Olympians who enjoy a greater level of mainstream acceptance. How can things be any different for our para-athletes? Perhaps, this malaise is just an extension of what we feel as a nation towards these people – the specially-abled ones. In every sphere of life we see that all we can accord to these people is ignorance at best and abuse at worst. We regard them as no more as unwanted irritation. Even the government seems to think so. Till date, there is no proper official documentation of the number of disabled people in India.
These athletes, as well as other dignitaries who have made it big in spite of physical shortcomings – and the wonderful life that comes with it in a country like India as a result – need to be celebrated for the simple reason that they have done what they have done in spite of a system that has not helped them the way they wanted to, to put it mildly. They need to be an inspiration for the so-called normal people as well because of the hardships they have endured. It is only then that the country will truly be what its forebears like Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru envisioned it to be.
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