Forty-year-old Devendra Jhajharia became an inspiration to many when he became the first para-athlete to be awarded the Padma Bhushan – the country’s third-highest civilian honor. A multiple medalist at the Paralympics, Jhajharia was praised by all for his passion and courage. However, life wasn’t always like this. At the tender eight of eight, fate made him fight his greatest fight.
“He would be better off dead,” Jhajharia recalled one of his relatives telling his mother when he was 12 years old. This happened after his left arm had to be amputated. Jhajharia suffered a jolt from a live wire while playing. But his parents never let him weaken.
Although Jhajharia tried not to be swayed by such comments, his mother could not remain unmoved. “My mother was very distressed after such comments. I told her not to let herself be influenced and that I was going to do something big in life. That’s how I kept myself motivated.”
He said other disabled children shouldn’t let others discourage them either. Even when mocked for his disability, he said he always believed losing an arm wouldn’t stop him because “life is much more than that”.
“My parents always encouraged me to lead a normal life. In fact, they asked me to go out and play like other kids, even though there were some who didn’t have any hopes in me,” he said.
WINNING THE PADMA BHUSHAN
Becoming the first Para athlete to be honored with the Padma Bhushan meant a lot to Jhajharia and the Para sport. He said: “The Padma Bhusan Prize itself is a great honor and the fact that this was the first time a para athlete had received the award made it even more important and I would like to thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Government of thank India for the same.”
This will encourage all disabled people who would have appreciated the recognition, he said. “My interviews about the award will reach out to hundreds of disabled youth who will be encouraged to play sports. They will also be motivated if they think that one day the government might award them the Padma Bhushan as well. So today you can dream , even if.” they are disabled. The award will bring big changes at the grassroots level.”
CHANGE IN SPORTS CULTURE
Jhajharia said a lot has changed since he entered the sports world. “When I started the sport, para-sport was not yet well known, even the Ministry of Sport was not aware of it. I went on a lonely journey with a vision to popularize para-sports. It took a long time.” He said he initially had to bear all the costs of attending games, which has now changed.
“In 2004 I played for India with my own money. I bought the jersey myself but I wanted to win a medal for India. When I arrived at the venue, I saw that participants from other countries had a team of three to four people. I asked my manager why they have a team and I don’t,” he said.
“He told me they had physical therapists, fitness trainers and trainers with them. I had no idea. But when I went to Tokyo last year, I also had the same facilities and that was a big change.”
He finally said that after 20 years the situation had improved massively and he thanked the prime minister. He said: “The Prime Minister has a vision of parasport and because of this, great achievements have been able to be made, which are reflected in our performance at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, where we received 19 medals.”
He said the government’s programs and the facilities provided have helped those interested in sports in the villages. “Now an athlete can choose what sports they want to play, where they want to train – in India or abroad – and the government will pay the costs. This has done a great deal to transform the sporting scene in the country.”