As the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games kicked off to a glittering start, the disturbing feeling of discrimination and sheer apathy of the Odisha government came alive in the minds of para athletes in the State.
For years, many physically-challenged sportspersons have brought laurels to the Sate by winning medals in national and international events. But unlike the general athletes, the para athletes are not lucky enough to get enough cash rewards and job offers from the State government.
Ace para athlete of the State, Pramod Bhagat has won seven medals including five gold in the world para badminton championship. Besides, he clinched three medals including one gold in the Asian Games.
The list of achievements of para athlete Jayanti Behera is quite long as she won one silver and one bronze in Para Asian Games. She also won three medals in the Junior World Championship.
Similarly, visually-impaired chess stars Prachurya Pradhan and Soundarya Pradhan brought laurels to the State by winning medals in Para Asian Games. However, their success have remained off the eyes of the government.
As many as 12 para athletes of the State have won medals in international events while 21 others clinched medals in the national level events. However, none of them has been given any job by the State government so far.
“The Odisha government should give the recognition and benefits to the para athletes like other states do,” urged para athlete Jayanti Behera.
“Neither we have been assured or offered jobs by the State government. I did masters in commerce and now I am doing CA. The State government should fulfil the legitimate demands of the para athletes,” said visually impaired chess player Prachurya Pradhan.
“Many of us are still struggling to get jobs from the State government even after winning medals in Asian Para Games in 2018,” lamented another visually impaired chess player Soundarya Pradhan.
As a mark of protest, Odisha Para Players Forum has decided to observe National Sports Day as 'Black Day' and also stage a sit in on the same day.
“Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is taking a lot of steps for sports. We are also hopeful of similar initiatives for from him. We appeal to the government to look into our demands. We have called for a dharna on August 29 to press for our demands,” said Rakhal Sethi, secretary of the forum.
In states like Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana and Maharashtra both general and para athletes are given similar government benefits like jobs or cash rewards. However, discrepancies are found in Odisha, the para athletes alleged.
As per the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, para athletes should be given equal opportunity in jobs like normal athletes. However, the Odisha government in the same year had issued a notification in which it stated that the GA department with the approval of State Cabinet have issued a Resolution where in the eligibility criteria for induction of eminent sports persons towards participation in Olympic Games, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games or a National record holder has been outlined. But there is no such provision for the Para-players in the said Resolution .
Eventually, the para athletes under the aegis of Odisha Para Athletes Forum had staged mass agitation on January 2, 2019 demanding job. Though the State Sports department had assured the athletes of jobs, the promises are yet to be fulfilled.
State Sports Minister Tusharkanti Behera said, “The Sports department is giving reservation to para athletes of different disciplines. They are not considered for job in the police department due to physical limitations, but the guidelines need to be changed. The Sports department will take step in this regard soon.”