Goonga Pahalwan aka Virender Singh is an Indian freestyle wrestler but what makes his achievements special is his disability to speak and hear. Inspite of all odds, he has won three gold medals and a bronze medal in the Deaflympics.
The national coaches rate him as one of India’s best wrestlers but the federation has never given him a chance to qualify for Olympics citing his disability.
He has fought against India’s most celebrated wrestler, Sushil Kumar on five occasions during his practice sessions in Delhi but Sushil wasn’t able to get the better of Virender even once. Every single one of the five fights ended in draws.
Date of Birth
1 April 1986
Sasroli village, near Jhajjar in Haryana
Deaflympics - 4 ( 3 Gold, 1 Bronze) World Deaf Wrestling Championship - 2 (1 Silver, 1 Bronze)
Here is his awe-inspiring yet heart-wrenching story
Virender Singh was born on 1 April 1986 to a family of farmers in Sasroli village, near Jhajjar in Haryana. His father, Ajit Singh was a CISF Jawan, while his mother Manna Devi, a homemaker.
He took to wrestling after being inspired by his father and uncle, who too were wrestlers. His uncle Surinder Pehelwan brought him to Delhi to live at the CISF akhara where he developed a liking towards wrestling by watching his father and uncle wrestle. At the age of 9, he started his training.
Singh trained at major wrestling akharas, namely the Chhatrasal Stadium and Guru Hanuman akhara. Later he started training under Dronacharya Awardee Coaches Maha Singh Rao and Ramphal Singh.
Virender first tasted success at the National Rounds of the World Cadet Wrestling Championships in 2002, where he won the Gold Medal. The Gold medal meant he would directly qualify for the world event but he was disqualified by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), citing his deafness. Inspite of him, the silver medalist was sent for the event.
In 2005 at the Summer Deaflympics in Melbourne, Australia, he won his first Gold medal at the international stage and since then there was no looking back. He clinched a Silver medal in the World Deaf Wrestling Championships in Armenia in 2008. In the 2009 Summer Deaflympics, he bagged the Bronze in Taipei, China.
At the 2012 World Deaf Wrestling Championships, he won a bronze in Sofia, Bulgaria. Again, at the 2013 Summer Deaflympics, his stellar performance earned him a Gold Medal. He followed it up with another Gold medal at the 2016 World Deaf Wrestling Championships in Tehran, Iran.
The Goonga Pehelwan made a hat-trick of Gold medals at the 2017 Summer Deaflympics in Samsun, Turkey.
In July 2015, he was awarded the Arjuna Award for his outstanding contribution to Indian Sports. He has also received the Rajiv Gandhi State Sports Award, awarded by the Government of Delhi, India.
Virender has been overlooked by the state and central sports authorities completely. He makes his living by fighting unprofessional domestic dangals with pehelwans almost twice his size for a sum between Rs 5,000-Rs 1,00,000.
In 2016 the central government placed him in the Dumb category instead of para-athlete category, which is definitely a sad news for any wrestler who has won medals at various competitions, including Bharat Kesari.
“Central government placed him in the dumb category but according to the rules of the government he should be placed in the para-athlete category. Even Haryana government went along with the decision and placed him in the same category”, said his brothRanbirbir.
“During Manohar Lal Khattar’s government, Goonga Pehelwan was supposed to get Rs 6 crore before leaving for his third Deaflympics, but he only got 1 crore 20 lakhs out of which 1 crore 10 lakhs went in repaying the loans,” he said.
Also when he was given the Arjuna Award just like normal athletes, he wasn’t given the same prize money as them, told his brother.
Before he left for the Deaflympics in 2017, he was promised a hefty reward will on 15 August – Independence Day. They had even promised Virender an A-Grade job along with a reward of Rs.1.5 crore, said his father. But ever since he returned victoriously, practically every single individual has turned their back on them including the Chief Minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar.
Singh is presently employed with the Sports Authority of India as a Junior Sports Coach training the next generation of wrestlers.
‘Goonga Pehelwan’ Documentary
Young filmmakers – Vivek Chaudhary, Mit Jani and Prateek Gupta—shot a documentary on Virender Singh, titled Goonga Pehelwan. The 45-minute documentary was screened at various film festivals across the globe. It received the highest Indian film honour, National Film Award in the year 2015.
2005 Melbourne – Gold Medal
2009 Taiwan – Bronze Medal
2013 Bulgaria – Gold Medal
2017 Turkey – Gold Medal
World Deaf Wrestling Championship
2008 Armenia – Silver Medal
2012 Bulgaria – Bronze Medal
Rajiv Gandhi State Sports Award, awarded by the Government of Delhi, India.
Arjuna Award, 2015.