“These athletes deserve the highest recognition and awards that our country can bestow on them because they are shining examples of what a society can achieve through hard work, determination and commitment,” the former athlete, known as ‘Flying Sikh’, said.
Mariyappan Thangavelu (gold in men’s T42 High Jump), Varun Bhati (bronze in men’s T42 High Jump), Deepa Malik (silver in women’s shotput F53 event) and Devendra Jhajharia (gold in men’s F46 javelin throw) have bagged medals in their respective disciplines and there has been a demand that the Paralympic medallists be conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award — the highest sporting honour in the country.
An Olympic medallist directly qualifies for the Khel Ratna award during an Olympic year but there is no such policy in place for the paralympians.
Milkha, who had missed a bronze medal by a whisker in the 1960 Rome Olympics, congratulated all the athletes who are currently representing India at the ongoing Rio Paralympics for their efforts and successful performances.
“I had been invited by the Paralympic Committee of India to flag off the ‘Sport for Development Run’ in 2014 and I was amazed at the zest and enthusiasm of the paralympic athletes who I had met that day. I was touched,” said the octogenarian former quarter-miler.
“Now I am touched again when I see the performances of these athletes. I have a message for them. ‘Your performances, in the face of all odds that you have encountered in life are living examples to all of us of what can be achieved when someone sets his or her mind to it.”
“I thank you all for giving us that inspiration and motivation and for keeping the National Flag flying’,” he added.