Murlikant Petkar the private Jawan of Indian Army registered his name in history books by becoming India’s first Paralympic gold medalist.
A serious injury or disease can take away one’s livelihood or will to live or sometimes even their life. But there are few, so valiant, whose spirit cannot be shaken. Paralympian Murlikant Petkar is one such warrior.
In the 1965 war against Pakistan, Petkar who served as a private jawan got severely injured. He was shot by seven bullets. One is still lodged in his spine. That bullet crippled his body but could not cripple his determination.
Unyielding Resolute of Private Jawan Murlikant Petkar
Murlikant Petkar was a sportsman even before the tragedy struck. He played for the Indian Army Corps’ Electronics and Mechanical Engineering Branch (EME), Secunderabad as a boxer before he was deployed in Kashmir.
Petkar was not a man to give up. When he was being treated for the bullet injuries in a hospital in Mumbai, JRD Tata gave the wounded soldiers a visit. Petkar said that he did not want monetary compensation but would be grateful if given a job. He soon started working as a supervisor at TELCO, Pune. But this was not enough for him, he knew something was lacking. He soon realised that sports was something that made him happy and began swimming as a way to recuperate. Swimming gave a new meaning to his life. From there, he never looked back!
Murlikant Petkar – Journey as a Paralympian
Once Murlikant Petkar started pursuing sports as a professional Paralympian, it took him just three years to be selected as a part of India’s squad of ten athletes for the 1968 Paralympics held in Israel. He participated in table tennis and qualified till the second round.
Murlikant Petkar soon began training vigorously at shotput, javelin, slalom and, of course, swimming. He participated in all these sports at the 1972 Paralympics held in Heidelberg, Germany. Some of us cannot even imagine training for javelin without the ability to walk, but this man not only trained every day for four years but also finished as a finalist at the men’s precision javelin throw, the javelin throw and slalom. And this was not even his greatest achievement!
Petkar won a gold medal for swimming in 1972 Paralympics. He made history when he clocked 37.331 seconds thus breaking the world record for the 50m freestyle swimming event. He also became the first to win a gold medal at the Paralympics for India. It may shock you that the first individual gold medal for India at an Olympic level tournament was won by Petkar, a Paralympian, 36 years before an Olympian (Abhinav Bindra) did!
Murlikant Petkar: The Unsung Hero
During the 60s and 70s, Indian media was n ot what it is today and sportsmen, especially Paralympians, did not receive much spotlight. India started keeping official records of Paralympics from as late as 1984 and the story of Petkar’s achievements by then faded into oblivion.
Petkar even wrote letters to the Indian government for acknowledgement of his work by presenting him the Arjuna Award, but his request fell on deaf ears.
He received Shri Shiv Chatrapati Award and a pension of Rs. 4000 by the Maharashtra government in 1975. He was awarded Rs 15 lakh by Sachin Tendulkar through Go Sports Foundation.
Petkar now wants India to know his story and inspire the differently abled with his journey. Since early 2017, there have been talks of a Bollywood biopic based on Petkar’s life starring Sushant Singh Rajput. Hopefully, this biopic will bestow upon him the limelight this unsung hero truly deserves.