Paralympians in India have always lamented about being treated differently than Olympians. That attitude has shown some signs of changing after Paralympians won four medals (two golds, one silver and a bronze medal) at the recent Rio Paralympics to overshadow India's performance at the Summer Olympics, where Indian athletes won just two medals, one silver and a bronze.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sport announced prize money for Paralympic medallists at par with Olympians. Some state governments like Uttarakhand too revised their policies to implement rules for equal prize money.
The winds of change, however, are yet to flow through Maharashtra.
In the aftermath of the Rio Olympics, the Maharashtra government announced hefty cash rewards for each of their athletes who had competed in the Brazilian city.
The state government announced a Rs 50 lakh cash reward for athletes from the state like shooter Ayonika Paul, tennis player Prarthana Thombare, rower Dattu Bhokanal, hockey player Devraj Walmiki and distance runner Kavita Raut, who represented India at the Rio Games. Steeplechaser Lalita Babar, who finished a credible 10th at the Rio Olympics, got Rs 75 lakh. Maharashtra government also gave Rs 75 lakh to Olympic silver medallist PV Sindhu, Rs 25 lakh to her coach P Gopichand and Rs 50 lakh to bronze medallist wrestler Sakshi Malik even though they are not from the state.
However, Maharashtra's only Paralympian at Rio, swimmer Suyash Jadhav, is still to be given any reward.
The 22-year-old swimmer, competing in his first Paralympics, set his personal best timings in two of his three events in Brazil. In the 50m butterfly S7 event, Suyash clocked a timing of 33.63 to finish fifth in his heat, while in the 50m freestyle S7 event, he clocked 31.58 in the heats to again finish fifth. In the men's 200m individual medley SM7 event, he finished sixth in his heat with a timing of 3:01.05.
Jadhav hopes that the same policy as Olympians would be applied to him by the state government. However, so far no announcement has been forthcoming.
"There should not be any distinction in the way Olympians and Paralympians are treated. If anything, Paralympians need more attention from the governments," Jadhav told HT.
Jadhav was to have a meeting with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis last week, but the latter postponed it citing other pressing commitments.
According to a source in the state government, the state has no clear policy on cash rewards for athletes, be it Olympians or Paralympians.
"Sports policies are evolving in India. There is no policy to give cash rewards to Paralympians. We don't have very clear-cut policies, but cash rewards are declared after events just like this time after Rio Olympics. The government ensures that the best athletes have job security so that they can concentrate on their chosen discipline with worrying about the future, but there's no policy for such one-time thing," said a source in the state government who did not wish to be named.
22-year-old Jadhav does not have a job currently.
"Paralympians need all the support they can get and I'm hoping the state government will make some announcement soon," Jadhav added.
Maharashtra Sports Minister Vinod Tawde was not available for comment.