Vijender Singh interview: 'It pains a lot to see a hungry child sleeping on the road during lockdown'

The images of poor migrant labourers, old, young, disabled, pregnant, walking for hundreds of kilometer in the scorching sun, hungry and helpless, to reach their homes during the coronavirus-enforced nation-wide lockdown has become the haunting image of India for the last few days.

On 24 March, at 8 PM, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a three-week lockdown from midnight across the country to check the spread of the deadly COVID-19. The move was meant to break the cycle of infection but with a notice of a few hours, it also sparked mass migration across the nation by daily-wage labourers, defying the restrictions put into the place. With no money and job in hands, labourers with their families have been walking to reach their homes, which in many cases are 100s of km afar. Media reports, social media are littered with stories of their plight.

The government’s move to enforce a curfew without making necessary arrangements for the underprivileged class has come under criticism from many quarters, including India’s legendary boxer Vijender Singh, who has been critical of the decision and government’s planning, on social media.

“The lockdown could have been planned in a much better way,” Vijender told Firstpost. “This is not demonetisation, the element of surprise was not required, this is for the larger good of the people. A notice period of few days before the lockdown would have been very helpful to everyone. The adverse effect on the migrant labourers could have been curtailed.”

“It pains a lot to see a hungry child sleeping on the road, a husband carrying his injured wife for kms.”

The crisis, however, has presented Vijender, the first ever Indian boxer to win an Olympic medal, with an opportunity to work for the needy. But his relief work from the ground doesn’t find a mention in his Twitter feed despite him using the medium regularly to connect with his fans and express his views. And he has his owns reasons for it.

“It’s good that people are contributing to the PM Relief Fund but there are helpless people all around us. The people who use to beg at the red light near your house, homeless people around your home, we need to help those also, in whatever way we can, give them clothes, food. There were people who wanted to go to their home, far-flung areas, so I gave them financial assistance. But it’s not in my nature to take pictures of that and put it on social media,” said the celebrated pugilist, who also tried out his hands in politics with Congress during the 2019 general elections.

The coronavirus pandemic has also adversely impacted Vijender's boxing plans, though he feels it's secondary at the moment. The Bhiwani-born boxer who turned professional in 2015 boasts a 12-0 record with his last bout coming against Ghana's Charles Adamu in November last year. For a while, the 34-year-old has made it clear that the next big target for him is to fight for the world title. Boxers need to make the right noise to get to the world title fight, and Vijender had things planned with a bout in late May this year to take him to his ultimate aim. But prevailing conditions have confined the Haryana lad to his New Delhi residence.

“I was scheduled to be in Manchester to be in the training camp during this lockdown period but now it’s a different story. We had planned for a fight towards the end of May and the plan was to announce about the show with a press conference before leaving India, to reveal the opponent but for now, all of that has been postponed,” informed Vijender.

He also added that delay would definitely push his hopes of a world title fight to next year at least.

“Coronavirus outbreak has impacted everything, normal life is not the same and professional boxing has also been impacted, for now, I will have to first take on a couple of matches before I can think of the world title fight,” said Vijender.

“Had things not panned out as they did, maybe I could have aimed for a world title fight by the end of this year, although a lot for it depends on my promoter Top Rank but now it will be extremely difficult to go according to the plans.”

The unexpected break has allowed the boxer to spend extra time with his family as he tries to keep himself fit with indoor activities.

"The unexpected break has given me more time to spend with my family. It's good that way. Shadow boxing and skipping rope is a close friend of a boxer so I do that regularly. For now, I am trying to condition myself at home," added Vijender.

It's not only Vijender's plans that have got impacted due to the ongoing situation, but the COVID-19 pandemic also forced the International Olympics Committee to postpone the Tokyo Olympics 2020 to next year. With nine athletes qualifying, it was going to be India's largest-ever boxing contingent at the Games. And while all those boxers will hold on to their tickets for next year as well, Vijender feels an Olympic this year would have meant higher chances for India to win a medal, but he's also confident of a good show next year.

"All our guys are very talented but they were in good form and rhythm. Our chances of winning a medal would have been higher if Olympics was held this year but I am confident they will do better next year as well," said the 2010 Asian Games gold medallist.

Updated Date: Mar 31, 2020 14:21:32 IST



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