New Delhi: Devendra Jhajharia became the first para athlete to receive India's highest sporting honour — Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna — and said the state governments "need to do more" for the disabled athletes.
Jhajharia received the award from President Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapathi Bhawan along with Sardar Singh, who became only the second hockey player to get the prestigious Khel Ratna on the National Sports Day.
Javelin thrower Jhajharia is the only Indian to win two Paralympic gold medals — 2004 Athens Games and 2016 Rio Games — while star mid-fielder Sardar has been the architect of India hockey team's many victories in the last few years.
"It's a historic day for Indian para athletes. There are five crore such athletes and they need more support," Jhajaria told PTI in an interaction.
"The state governments need to do more. There should be separate grounds with facilities such as ramps and easy movements for wheelchair-bound athletes and blinds," he said.
The 36-year-old Jhajharia, who created world records while winning both his gold medals, said he would like to dedicate this award to his mother and his seven-year-old daughter.
"My mother has been my support all through. She has done a lot for me," Jhajharia, who clinched a gold medal at the 2013 World Championships, said.
The 31-year-old Sardar has faced allegations of sexual harassment by a Indian-origin British hockey player. He, however, denied the allegations and the government committee, led by justice CK Thakkar, chose him for the honour.
"I did not think of such things. After sending application, I did not think of it (award). I was just focussing on my game. With this award and with my age, I need to be more responsible with my game," Sardar said.
Sardar had become India's youngest captain when he led the side at the 2008 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup at the age of 22.
"I want to do well at the Asian championship. When you do well, all the recognition and awards automatically come to you." Sardar, who was accompanied by his parents, said.
A recipient of the Padma Shri - the fourth highest civilian award - 2015, Sardar has two Asian Games medals -- gold in 2014 Incheon and bronze in 2010 Guangzhou.
Cricketer Cheteshwar Pujara, one of the 17 Arjuna awardees chosen this year, did not attend the ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan due to his County commitments in England.
All the players received their awards and citation from President Kovind, who recently succeeded Pranab Mukherjee.
Jhajharia was not the only para athlete whose achievements got official recognition, as Mariyappan Thangavelu and Varun Bhati also received the honour.
The loudest cheers were reserved for Mariyappan. The audiences kept applauding until Mariyappan walked up to the President and received his award.
Mariyappan had won the men's high jump (F46) gold medal at the Rio Olympics while Bhati had claimed a silver in the same event.
Like in the past, the awards selection yet again got embroiled in controversy with the Sports ministry striking off the names of para coach Satyanarayana and kabaddi coach Hira Nand Kataria.
While Satayanarayana was not cleared by the ministry after the selection panel's nomination since he is facing a criminal defamation case in a Delhi court, Kataria's name was approved but was taken off three days after an official notification.
Sports Minister Vijay Goel dropped his name after the kabaddi federation and many players expressed surprise over Kataria's selection as he is an unknown entity in the circle.
Ignored for the prestigious Arjuna, weightlifter Sanjita Chanu and basketball player P Anitha had approached the Delhi High Court over their non-selection and the government promised to have a re-look into their cases.
The government will file a response in 14 days time.
For the first time none of the Dronacharya awardees this year — six in all — are active. Dr R Gandhi received the award posthumously and others got as lifetime achievement.
Khel Ratna awardees: Devendra Jhajharia (Para-Athlete) and Sardar Singh (Hockey).
Arjuna Awardees: V J Surekha (Archery), Khushbir Kaur (Athletics), Arokin Rajiv (Athletics), Prasanthi Singh (Basketball), L Devendro Singh (Boxing), Cheteshwar Pujara (Cricket), Harmanpreet Kaur (Cricket), Oinam Bembem Devi (Football), SSP Chawrasia (Golf), S V Sunil (Hockey), Jasvir Singh (Kabaddi), P N Prakash (Shooting), Anthony Amalraj (Table Tennis), Saketh Myneni (Tennis), Satyawart Kadian (Wrestling), Mariyappan Thangavelu (Para-Athlete) and Varun Bhati (Para-Athlete).
Updated Date: Aug 29, 2017 19:59 PM