Virender Singh - The Goonga Pehelwan

Virender Singh - The Goonga Pehelwan
Virender Singh - The Goonga Pehelwan

Wrestler Virender Singh is India’s most successful deaf athlete. In wrestling circles, Virender’s real name is lost; he is simply called Goonga Pehelwan. He won India’s first and only gold medal at the 2005 Deaflympics in Melbourne, in 74-84kg freestyle wrestling, a silver medal at the second World Deaf Wrestling Championships in 2008 in Yerevan, Armenia, and a bronze at the 2009 Deaflympics in Taipei, Taiwan and a bronze at the 2012 World Deaf Wrestling Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. That’s four medals at the only four international competitions Virender has been to. That is the measure of the success of this man.

For a man who has always fought able-bodied men, he is the only deaf wrestler in the Chhattarsaal stadium – Chhattarsaal stadium being the breeding ground for most Olympic hopefuls in wrestling, houses 150 of the best Indian wrestlers, so fighting other able-bodied wrestlers comes naturally to Virender. And to be sidelined because of a hearing disability is a cruel irony, as he has never let his disability come in the way of his unwavering dedication and love for the sport.

The Film

A group of young filmmakers had come together to fight for Virender’s rights. The right to be recognized as a sportsman who is given dues and perks like every other sportsman in India. And the right to represent the country with able-bodied wrestlers.

Untli now Virender was primarily earning money from dangals where he fought with non-disabled wrestlers for money ranging from 5000 to 1,00,000. He fights 20-25 dangals a year. Virender at 76 kg is dwarfed by the size of the other wrestlers he meets in these dangals. The average weight of men he fights in these dangals is a 100 kg but you have to see him compete in these dangals to know the size of the heart of this incredibly chiseled wrestler.

Winning against the system

In a meeting held on the 25th of August this year, the Council of Ministers approved of the addition of Deaf Games to the Sports Policy along with Virender’s appointment as Junior Coach in the Sports Department. This seemingly minor amendment to the policy makes all deaf athletes eligible for the cash rewards that were earlier open only to able-bodied athletes.

Though this does not provide rectification for the past where Virender’s victories and travails remain uncelebrated and unacknowledged, it is a milestone; hopefully, a prelude to bigger changes that will run even deeper. For now, it means a future for Virender that is infinitely more hopeful, a dream much closer for him to realize.


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