Sachin and Paan Singh

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the Bharat Ratna; and why the iconic batsman and perceived God of Cricket, Sachin Tendulkar must be rewarded with the honour. In fact, I remember listening to this theory around the time India entered the WCC finals in 2003 for the first time. The idea was buried in a hurry following the humiliation of the Indian team at the hands of Australia that year.

Since India won the World Cup in 2011, the demand has once again resurfaced. Fans of Tendulkar want the government to award him the highest honour, an honour that have been bestowed upon just 41 human beings since being instituted in 1955.

Originally, the award was meant for individuals for their services including artistic, literary, and scientific achievements, as well as “recognition of public service of the highest order.” In 2011, the Indian government added sports to the category prompting speculations that Tendulkar would win soon.

If you look at the award winners of the Bharat Ratna,  you will see that many of them were highly deserving individuals. In fact, the early winners were all architects of the nation. We have recognised Mother Theresa, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, and Nelson Mandela. Yes, several awards have been politically influenced. I will never say they never deserved it but only that the timing of the award had political reasons. There are several Congress leaders who have won the award, perhaps not so much for their contribution but more for their loyalty to the party.

I do think Sachin Tendulkar, Dhyaan Chand, or Vishwanathan Anand would easily fit the celebrated list. But there are several other individuals who deserve to make it into the list, more than a sportsman does. I thought Field Marshal Manekshaw deserved it, and might have made the list, if he had not rubbed the political leadership on the wrong side. I feel that any award should be bestowed on an awardee, when he is at his peak, or is at least active.

Two weeks ago, I happened to see Paan Singh Tomar, a movie starring Irrfan Khan, whom I believe is one of the finest actors the country has produced. If you love sports, or good cinema you must watch this daaku film.

I am not reviewing Paan Singh Tomar. Please read reviews here and here; or better still, go and watch the movie. Tomar was a former national steeple chase champion and record holder, who represented India at the Asian games, won accolades for the country. Unfortunately, he got such a raw deal from the government, the society, and the system he was in that post retirement from the Army, he was forced to become a dacoit.

Apart from the pure cinematic appeal, Paan Singh Tomar leaves you thinking about how our country has treated our sportsmen.

Unfortunately, we only celebrate the best and the most admired. We are a country of sycophants who would prefer to go ga-ga over a few and ignore the contribution of the rest. We love iconizing and idolizing, whether it’s the film stars, cricketers, or politicians. Yet we forget that behind every star, there’s the brilliance of a number of deserving individuals who are sometimes undiscovered and unrewarded.

So the question is whether Tendulkar deserves this honour.

I feel that it’s important that we look at protecting the interests of the thousands of sportsmen who struggle for sponsorships, for financial support during their careers, who probably work as hard as Sachin did. They probably strived harder against the odds. There are just ten nations that play really competitive cricket. But an athlete needs to compete with the best from over 100 nations. It’s a lot tougher for an average Indian sportsperson to win a medal at the Asian games or even qualify for an Olympic final than it is to make it to the national cricket team.

While a fan would like Sachin to add the Bharat Ratna to the number of feathers in his cap, I see that we need to start looking seriously at the plight of our not-so-celebrated sportsmen, especially those from the not-so-celebrated sports.

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