New Delhi, Aug 29 (IANS) Asian and Commonwealth Games gold medalist wrestler Bajrang Punia and Paralympics silver medalist athlete Deepa Malik were awarded the country’s highest sporting honor — Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna — on the occasion of National Sports Day at an awards ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on Thursday.
While Deepa received the award herself, Punia had to skip the ceremony as he is presently training in Russia for the upcoming World Championships. He will receive the award from Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju on his return from the World Championships to be held in Kazakhstan from September 14.
Deepa became the first Indian woman para-athlete and the oldest to be conferred with the prestigious award.
Deepa, 49, also became only the second para-athlete to win the award after two-time Paralympics gold medalist javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia, who received the recognition in 2017.
“I am very happy. This whole journey has been more about changing the attitude of people towards disability and the hidden potential in people with disability. I think the award is going to be a huge inspiration to disabled women athletes. It took 70 years for independent India to win a medal (women’s) in Paralympics,” Deepa said.
Apart from Deepa and Punia, 19 sportspersons were conferred with the Arjuna Award, including shuttler B. Sai Praneeth, who recently settled for bronze at the BWF World Championships ending India’s 36-year wait for a medal in the men’s section of the meet, cricketers Ravindra Jadeja and Poonam Yadav, track and field stars Tejinder Pal Singh Toor, Mohammed Anas and Swapna Barman, footballer Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, hockey player Chinglensana Singh Kangujam and shooter Anjum Moudgil.
Moudgil also missed the awards ceremony as she’s part of the Indian contingent participating in the ISSF’s World Cup (rifle/pistol stage) in Rio De Janerio, which got underway on Wednesday. Moudgil has already bagged a quota place for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I want to dedicate this award to the seniors who made this possible for me. This award is for the future generation of Indian football. I hope this will act as a catalyst to inspire them,” said national team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
“It’s a dream come true moment for me. I would like to thank the Athletics Federation of India for recommending my name. This award will inspire me to achieve greater things in future,” said Swapna Barman.
The panel also nominated three names for the Dronacharya Award, including Vimal Kumar (badminton), Sandeep Gupta (table tennis) and Mohinder Singh Dhillon (athletics).
Sanjay Bhardwaj (cricket), Rambir Singh Khokar (kabaddi) and Mezban Patel (hockey) were awarded with the Dronacharya Award in the lifetime category.
All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja could not attend the awards ceremony as he is part of the India Test squad presently touring the West Indies.
Mohammad Anas, 400m specialist, also missed the ceremony as he is competing in the ongoing 59th Senior National Athletics Championships in Lucknow.
The Khel Ratna award carries a prize purse of Rs 7.5 lakh while the Arjuna awardees are given Rs 5 lakh each along with citations.
Full list of awardees:
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award: Bajrang Punia (wrestling), Deepa Malik (para-athletics).
Dronacharya Award: Vimal Kumar (badminton), Sandeep Gupta (table tennis), Mohinder Singh Dhillon (athletics).
Dronacharya Award (life-time category): Merzban Patel (hockey), Rambir Singh Khokhar (kabaddi), Sanjay Bhardwaj (cricket).
Arjuna Award: Tajinderpal Singh Toor (athletics), Mohammad Anas Yahiya (athletics), S. Bhaskaran (body building), Sonia Lather (boxing), Ravindra Jadeja (cricket), Chinglensana Singh Kangujam (hockey), Ajay Thakur (kabaddi), Gaurav Singh Gill (motorsports), Pramod Bhagat (para-badminton), Anjum Moudgil (shooting), Harmeet Rajul Desai (table tennis), Pooja Dhanda (wrestling), Fouaad Mirza (equestrian), Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (football), Poonam Yadav (cricket), Swapna Barman (athletics), Sundar Singh Gurjar (para-athletics), Bhamidpati Sai Praneeth (badminton), Simran Shergill (polo).
Dhyanchand Award: Manuel Fredricks (hockey), Arup Basak (table tennis), Manoj Kumar (wrestling), Nitten Kirtane (tennis), C. Lalremsanga (archery).
Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Awards: Aparna Kumar (land adventure), Late Dipankar Ghosh (land adventure), Manikandan K (land adventure), Prabhat Raju Koli (water adventure), RameshwerJangra (air adventure).
Lifetime achievement award: Wangchuk Sherpa.
Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar: Go Sports Foundation; Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation (GNSPF); Rayalaseema Development Trust.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy: Punjab University, Chandigarh.