Paralympian Deepa Malik was conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award by President Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi on Thursday, which made her the first Indian woman para-athlete and the oldest to be conferred the award.
Malik, who won a silver medal in the shot put F53 category in the 2016 Rio Paralympics, was joint winner of the top honour. Meanwhile, Asian and Commonwealth Games champion wrestler, Bajrang Punia missed the awards ceremony he is training in Russia for the upcoming World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, which will be held from September 14 to September 22.
“I am very happy. This whole journey has been more about changing the attitude of people towards disability and the hidden potential in people with disability,” Malik said to PTI.
“I think the award is going to be a huge inspiration to women athletes in disability. It took 70 years for independent India to win medal in Paralympic,” she added.
World Championships bronze-medallist shuttler B Sai Praneeth, cricketer Poonam Yadav, Asian Games gold-winner heptathlete Swapna Barman, footballer Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, two-time world silver-medallist boxer Sonia Lather, Asian Games silver-medallist equestrian Fouaad Mirza, motorsports ace Gaurav Gill and kabaddi captain Ajay Thakur were among the 19 sportspersons who received the Arjuna Award from President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday.
Apart from Punia, other prominent absentees on Thursday were 10m air rifle specialist Anjum Moudgill, because of her participation in the ISSF’s World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, cricketer Ravindra Jadeja, because of his participation in India’s ongoing tour of West Indies, and silver-winner quartermiler Mohammed Anas, because of his participation at the ongoing 59th National Inter-State Athletics Championships in Lucknow. All of them were picked for the Arjuna award this year.
The National Sports Awards are given on August 29 every year to commemorate the birth anniversary of hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand.
While the Khel Ratna award carries a prize purse of Rs 7.5 lakh, the Arjuna awardees are given Rs 5 lakh each along with citations.