It’s a big day for us at Hindustan Times today as we felicitate young achievers for excellence in diverse fields from across the northern region at the fifth annual HT Youth Forum. Here, we introduce our readers to this year’s winners, some of who have already met fame, others who are training hard to do India proud and still others who work quietly in the service of the nation. These leaders of tomorrow are under the age of 30 and have overcome all odds to excel in their chosen filed whether it’s academics or sports, fine arts or the defence services, entrepreneurship or music. The success after their struggles is inspiring and it is reassuring that the future of young India is in safe, and competent, hands.
Over the past three days, Hindustan Times featured the winners of the HT Youth Forum, 2015, asking each one what it took to be an achiever; their inspiration; their next goal; how the youth could be a change-maker and most importantly; if it’s the best time to be young in India.
The answers to the first question were on predictable lines of hard work, focus and persistence winning them success. Their next goals were expectedly in the direction of nation-building. While most looked up to heroes in their fields or their parents for inspiration, one young achiever said his failure motivated him to work harder. Another said she looked for inspiration within because she didn’t need to look at anyone else to succeed.
The achievers were, however, unanimous that there’s no better time to be young in India than today. Opportunities are aplenty, infrastructure is in place and the world has shrunk to the size of the phone in their palm. It is largely a level-playing field for men and women, admit the sportswomen and woman defence officers. Equipped with ambition, initiative and grit, they believe there’s nothing stopping today’s youth from achieving their aim.
We at HT value our empowered youth and take this opportunity to showcase their achievements as we honour them for excellence today.
1. Anchal Thakur
17, Manali, Skiier
Like her elder brother Himanshu, Anchal was part of the Indian skiing team for the 2015 World Championship. She represented India in the Youth Olympics in 2012.
2. Himanshu Thakur
21, Manali, Skiier
Himanshu Thakur and his younger sister Anchal, 17, were part of the Indian skiing team for the 2015 World Championship. Himanshu competed in the Winter Olympics in Sochi last year, while his sister represented India in the Youth Olympics in 2012.
3. Harjeet Singh
19, SAS Nagar, Junior hockey captain
Harjeet captained India in the Junior Asian Championship and also led the India Under-21 team for the eight-nation tournament held in Holland this year. The striker from Kurali is a regular face in the junior circuit and also in the senior’s squad. The midfielder, who was also named the most promising player at the Sultan of Johor Cup Under-21 hockey tournament in 2013, is leading India in the 8th Junior Men’s Asia Cup hockey tournament being held at Kuantan in Malaysia at present. On Thursday, India thrashed Oman 9-0 to enter the semi-finals. Harjeet started playing hockey in 2004 at the stadium in Kurali, his home-town, before shifting base to the Surjeet Hockey stadium in Jalandhar in 2008.
4. Shubham Jaglan
11, Panipat, Golfer
This golf prodigy hails from Israna, a small village in Panipat known for wrestlers. Shubham shot to fame by winning two junior world golf championships this year, including the event at San Diego, US. Shubham chose golf over wrestling and took to practising golf at a small course built in his backyard. Ishwar Singh Jaglan, Shubham’s grandfather, sensed his passion for golf and went against the wishes of his family to get him enrolled at the academy. Shubham never looked back after that. His big break came when he was selected by NGO Golf Foundation that helped him pursue his dreams of becoming an international golfer.
5. Khushbir Kaur
22, Amritsar, Asian Games walker
Khushbir won the silver medal in the 20-km walk at the 2014 Asian Games at Incheon in South Korea. She became the first Indian woman to achieve the feat. She has also dominated the junior domestic circuit and in 2010, won a silver medal at the Asian Junior Championships followed by a bronze at the Junior Asian Games in Sri Lanka in 2012.
6. Alamgir Khan
22, Nabha (Patiala), Singer
Alamgir Khan has sung 20 Bollywood hits in two years but his claim to fame was the “Mauka Mauka” cricket World Cup jingle. At present, he is in Mumbai, working with music directors Himesh Reshammiya and AR Rahman on film songs. Because of his name, he is often mistaken for being a Pakistani Sufi singer; but his music flows from the Patiala Gharana. At 14, he started classical singing training under the guidance of his father (Ustad Murli Khan), grandfather (Ustad Idu Sharif Khan), and great grandfather (Ustad Karamdeen Khan), all known singers. For someone who got his first break in Salman Khan-starrer ‘Bodyguard’, surprisingly it wasn’t the love of India’s favourite game that made him take up the ‘Mauka’ project. The fact is he has never been a cricket buff.
7. Gaurav Kumar
16, Chandigarh, Skater
Gaurav took to skating five years ago when he was a student at the school run by the Society for Rehabilitation of Mentally Challenged (SOREM) in Chandigarh. He pursued his passion at Bhavan Vidyalaya and has not looked back ever since. The 16-year-old made the country proud by winning the gold at the 500m skating event in the Special Olympics held in the United States in July. Gaurav clocked 1:39.35s to clinch the top honours. A day before, he had finished fourth in 1000m race.
8. Lt CDR Sandhya Chauhan
28, Rewari, Haryana, Naval aviator
The first woman to lead the navy’s marching contingent this Republic Day, lieutenant commander Sandhya Chauhan is the pride of both her country and her state, Haryana. Her poise before US President Barack Obama at Rajpath on a rainy January 26 morning was a sign of confidence that women are gaining in the country and the long strides they have taken in the armed forces though combat roles. She comes from one of the worst districts in terms of sex ratio. It was her father’s desire to see her in the armed forces. He passed away when she was in Class 12 but she made his dream come true. Her elder brother is an army officer. She is married in Gurgaon and her husband is also a naval officer. Lt Cdr Chauhan is an observer for Dornier 228 aircraft at the INS base in Visakhapatnam with nearly 1,000 hours of flying under her belt.
9. Geetika Jakhar
30, Hisar, Haryana, Wrestler
The wrestler won the silver medal in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and went on to make it to a podium finish in the 2014 Asian Games too. She is a pioneer in Indian women’s wrestling and has become the first woman Arjuna awardee in the sport in 2006. She had also won a silver medal in the 2006 Asian Games. She won two gold medals and a silver medal in Commonwealth wrestling meets. In view of her achievements, Geetika has been appointed deputy superintendent of police (DSP) by the Haryana government. Besides winning accolades at the national level, she was conferred with the Haryana government’s Bhim award for outstanding sportspersons in 2003. Geetika was motivated to take up wrestling by his grandfather, Amarchand Jakhar, who was an accomplished wrestler.
10. Sumrit Shahi
22, Chandigarh, Writer
Wrote first book at 17, TV scripts at 20 — Sumrit Shahi is among India’s youngest authors and TV scriptwriters. He has written three novels — ‘Just Friends’, ‘A Lot Like Love’, ‘Never Kiss Your Best Friend’ — and scripted more than 700 episodes for TV shows ‘Sadda Haq’, ‘Million Dollar Girl’, and ‘Boyz’. He published his first novel, ‘Just Friends’, when he was 17, and debuted as scriptwriter with ‘Sadda Haq’ at 20. His novels have been translated into Hindi as well. Sumrit was the youngest nominee in the best-storywriter category at the Indian Telly Awards in 2014 for ‘Sadda Haq’. He is also a motivational speaker and a national-level debater.
11. Anjum Moudgil
21, Chandigarh, Shooter
A winner of multiple medals at the national level, Anjum is a regular face in the Indian squad. She won the bronze medal in the Asian Championship in Kuwait recently. Last year too, she had won the bronze medal at the Asian meet.
12. Chandeep Singh
16, Jammu, Inline skater
This spunky teenager is a double amputee skater. He used to be an avid footballer till 2011 but an accidental contact with a high-tension wire running above his house led to his getting electrocuted. He lost both his arms in the incident but that didn’t keep him away from sports. He chose skating and four years down the line, he is a national-level skater in inline. He has competed with able-bodied skaters, showing that grit is all one needs to beat the odds.
13. Athar Aamir Ul Shafi Khan
22, J&K, Youngest IAS officer
Ten candidates from Jammu and Kashmir cracked the prestigious civil services exam to join the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) this year. Of them, Athar Aamir Ul Shafi Khan stands out by being the youngest from the Kashmir Valley to become an IAS officer. Khan is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh. He cracked the civil services exam at 22, the year he completed his B Tech. Though a few offers from prestigious multi-national companies did come his way, Khan chose the IAS instead because he wanted to change lives of people. From a modest village in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, Khan has the distinction of cracking all professional exams that he took whether it was the All-India Engineering Entrance Exam or the pre-medical entrance tests. Before taking admission in IIT, Khan had even joined a medical college for a while. Though he cracked the IAS exam in the first attempt, he plans to give it another try for a better rank.
14. Yuvraj Hans
28, Jalandhar, Singer & actor
Yuvraj started his career with a hit, Yaar Anmulle, and has held his own in the resurgent Punjabi film industry ever since. Being the son of noted Punjabi singer Hans Raj Hans, Yuvraj has tough standards to measure up to though he says he never planned to become an actor. He always wanted to be a singer like his father. His recent release, Munde Kamal De, won him accolades as he played a mute lover. Though he played a sensible and sweet guy in ‘Yaar Anmulle’, Yuvraj says in real life he is totally opposite to the character he played. Revealing his versatile streak, he says now he wants to play the role of a gangster or a negative role in films.
15. Savita Gothra
16, Bhiwani, Haryana, Boxer
Savita shot to fame when she won the gold medal in the Junior World Boxing Championship in Taipei this year. She is a trainee at Bhiwani Boxing Club and was part of the squad with Sakshi Dhanana and Soniya Gothra. The three are training under the club’s chief coach, Jagdish Singh. Savita competed in the 52-kg category and dreams of representing India in the senior category too.
16. Mandeep Kaur Sandhu
16, Ludhiana, Boxer
At 16, Mandeep is no ordinary Class 12 student of a village government school of Ludhiana district. In fact, she is a junior world boxing champ already and has set sights on bigger titles. Her love for boxing started when she wore the gloves for the first time at the age of seven. Her inspiration was her elder brother, who incidentally is also a Class 12 student at the Dr Bhag Singh Government Senior Secondary School, Chakar, in Jagraon tehsil of Ludhiana district. Mandeep diligently trained for seven hours a day to achieve success at world championships. This year, she won the gold medal in the junior world boxing championship held in Taipei. Earlier, she had won a gold medal from the 4 Nations Boxing Cup held in Serbia. She is a three-time national champion and over the years has won many accolades in Punjab boxing championships.
17. Soniya Gothra
16, Bhiwani, Haryana, Boxer
Soniya was all of 12 when she decided to become a boxer. A supportive family gave wing to her dreams and today at 16, she has not only made Haryana but the entire country proud in the international arena. Soniya won the silver medal in the 48-kg category at the Junior World Championship, Taipei, in May this year. She is also a trainee at the Bhiwani Boxing Club.
18. Sakshi Dhanana
15, Bhiwani, Boxer
A trainee at the Bhiwani Boxing Club (BBC) that has given the country Olympians such as Vijender Singh, Sakshi shot into the limelight by winning the gold medal in the 54-kg category at the International Boxing Association’s women world junior boxing championships held in Taipei this year. Despite the gender stereotypes that plague Haryana’s hinterland, Sakshi managed to live her dream and achieve her goal. She won the silver medal in the 7th sub-junior women Haryana state boxing championships in 2012 and went on to clinch the gold medal in the 8th and 9th editions of the event in subsequent years.
19. Vipul Garg
17, Jind, Haryana, AIPMT topper
This year’s All-India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT) was not only an assessment of the aspirants’ knowledge but also a test of their nerves. Cancelled after the Supreme Court stepped in amid allegations of the question paper leak in Haryana in May, a retest was conducted in July. Vipul, a bright 17-year-old from Jind town, emerged the nationwide topper in the retest, scoring 695 out of 700 marks. The youngster fulfilled his and his family’s dream of studying medicine at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi.
20. Gurbaj Singh
27, Ferozepur, Hockey player
A gifted midfielder, he was part of the Indian hockey team which won medals in both the 2010 Asian and Commonwealth Games. Last year, he was part of the victorious 2014 Asian Games team and also won a medal in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. In recognition of his sporting achievements, he was appointed a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) in Punjab Police. Gurbaj made his India debut in 2006 at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar. He was part of the squad that won the gold medal in the 2007 Chennai Asia Cup. He has 203 international caps so far and in domestic hockey, he represents Punjab Police (employers) and Punjab state in the nationals. His earlier club was Air India. He has represented Delhi Waveriders in the Hockey India League.
21. Harinder Pal Sandhu
26, Chandigarh, Squash player
Harinder won the gold in the team category of the 2014 Asian Games. At present, he is the country’s number one squash player and is ranked 66th in the world. At the age of 14, he shifted base from Chandigarh to Chennai to pursue his dream of becoming a top-class squash player. Mission accomplished.
22. Sakshi Malik
22, Rohtak, Wrestler
Sakshi started wrestling in 2002 when she was 10. The wrestler won the silver medal in the freestyle category in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. She is a regular member of the Indian squad. In May this year, she won a bronze medal in the Senior Asian Wrestling Championship in Doha. At present, she is pursuing a post-graduate degree in physical education from Rohtak’s Maharishi Dayanand University.
21, Rohtak, Wrestler
At 13, she got married and by 14 she was a mother. Still Neetu wrestled her way to glory. Amid the turmoil, she kept her dream of becoming an international wrestler alive. The desire stayed with her but she took to the sport seriously only at 17. Initially, village elders opposed her entering the male-dominated akharas, but she persisted, and by 19, she was a national-level medallist in the senior category. Her toil bore fruit this August when the 21-year-old represented the country at the Junior World Championships in Brazil.
24. Harpal Shekhupuria
30, Chandigarh, Sculptor
This Haryana lad from Shekhupur village near Sirsa was born to an artisan family. He did a course in plumbing and then studied to become an art and craft teacher till his talent and application brought him to the Chandigarh College of Art where he did his bachelor’s degree in fine arts. Then with a master’s degree from Santiniketan, today he is a sculptor to look out for and a recipient of this year’s scholarship from the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi besides several other awards.
25. Lt Ramandeep Kaur
27, Bathinda, Army officer
Lieutenant Ramandeep Kaur was the only woman from Punjab to have been selected in the judge advocate general branch of the Indian Army through a tough competition. Six women and 10 men from across the country made it to the JAG department in August last year. Lt Ramandeep graduated in law from Panjab University and did her postgraduation from Jaipur in Rajasthan before attempting the JAG entrance exam. At present, she is serving the army in Srinagar.
26. Deepika Thakur
28, Yamunanagar, Hockey player
A regular face in Indian women’s hockey for the past one decade, Deepika was a member of the team that created history this year by qualifying for the Olympics for the first time. The last time the Indian women’s team competed in the Olympics was in 1980 in Moscow as a wild card entry. The Yamunanagar girl, who won the bronze in the last Asian Games, has 157 international caps and plays at the crucial halfback position. She has scored 16 times for India and is employed by the Railways. Seeing India qualify for the Olympics, Deepika even shelved her marriage plans.
27. Capt Jasmine Kaushik
24, Gurgaon, hails from Jind, Meritorious army officer
Capt Jasmine Kaushik was the all-India topper in the service selection board merit list (women’s technical entry) of the Indian Army in 2013. She was commissioned with ‘top 10’ order of merit after the training at Officers’ Training Academy (OTA), Chennai, in 2014. She went on to be felicitated with the Northern Command army commander’s commendation card in the first year of service and won the silver medal at the army marksmanship unit at Mhow in the air pistol event this year.
28. Sawarn Singh Virk
25, Mansa, Rower
Till September 2009, Sawarn had no idea what rowing was all about. When he heard about the sport for the first time, his immediate reaction was to find out more. Today, the 25-year-old is one of the best rowers in the country. He created history by becoming the first oarsman from India to make it to the semi-finals of the 2012 London Olympics. He went on to win the bronze medal in the 2014 Asian Games and this year he was conferred with the Arjuna Award. He started rowing at the age of 18 but has proved that it’s never too late to follow your passion.
29. Sushma Verma
23, Shimla, Cricketer
On November 16 last year when Sushma walked onto the field in Mysore against the South African women’s cricket team, the Shimla girl created history by becoming the first girl from Himachal Pradesh to feature in a Test match. The batswomen-wicketkeeper was selected in the Indian women’s team for the T20 home series against New Zealand in July this year. The middle-order player has been a regular member of the Himachal women’s team. Sushma was into various sports, including athletics, hockey, handball and volleyball before finally finding her calling in cricket. She has represented India Blue Women, India Women and Indian Board President’s Women XI playing one Test, three ODIs and five T20s. Under her captaincy, the Himachal team finished runner-up at the Under-19 all-India women’s tournament in 2011.
30. Maninder Singh Bajwa
29, Mohali, Entrepreneur
Bajwa is a first-generation entrepreneur who launched Espranza Innovations, which developed a self-learning platform for bringing digital education for children in urban and rural schools, in 2012. With an initial investment of Rs 50,000, Bajwa started his tech education company from a room in his house. Espranza’s iScuela K-12, the self-learning platform, has more than 1 lakh users across India today. iScuela was recognised first at the World Education Congress in Mumbai in 2013 and went on to win at the United Nation’s World Summit Youth Awards in the same year for addressing the education-for-all need. Bringing digital education to rural government schools is one of the project’s aims. The first phase of digitising has begun in Punjab. Espranza aims to scale this up to all 1,000 schools covered under the support my school campaign across India in the next two years. Bajwa is also a global shaper from the Chandigarh hub by the World Economic Forum.
31. Satnam Singh Bhamara
20, Barnala, Basketballer
At 7ft 2, the professional basketball player from Balloke village in Barnala stands tall in more ways than one. He created history by becoming the first Indian to be drafted in the National Basketball Association (NBA), the celebrated basketball league in North America. At present, he plays for the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League. He became the first player from India to be drafted into the NBA when the Dallas Mavericks chose him with the 52nd overall pick in the 2015 draft. He plays the centre position. He has attracted media attention ever since he was as young as 14 years old, and his career at IMG helped put him on the radar for NBA teams.
32. Anamika Gupta
25, Chandigarh, Graphic artist
Fresh from the Chandigarh College of Art with a postgraduate degree in fine arts, Anamika Gupta has already made place for herself as a graphic artist and print maker of repute. Having participated in several exhibitions, she has also received awards for her works. She has won the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi’s scholarship for young artists this year.
33. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
23, Mohali, Footballer
Strong, confident and a safe bet under the bar, the Mohali goalkeeper has emerged as one of the most exciting talents in the country. His gravity-defying saves and his ability to keep cool under pressure have earned him a lucrative contract with Norwegian club Stabaek FC, thus becoming only the fifth Indian ever to sign for a European club. Gurpreet, however, wanted more and became the first Indian ever to make it to the playing eleven of the team early this year. Gurpreet has been part of the Indian team for the 2018 Fifa world cup qualifiers. He has risen through the ranks and established himself as the number one keeper in the country. His club recently qualified for the Europa League, which is second only to the UEFA Champions League.
34. Siddharth, aka Dub Sharma
26, Chandigarh, Music composer & producer
Chandigarh’s very own munda Dub Sharma has produced the music for Bollywood movies like ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, ‘Cocktail’ and ‘David’. He recently produced a single called ‘White blood’ for Abhay Kumar’s film ‘Placebo’. He holds an Australian certification in audio engineering and has studied music production, sound design and social psychology. Along with a few musicians, he has started Ruff Sound System in Chandigarh to promote independent music. He released two records, ‘The Rising EP’ and ‘Vyuh’ (album) with Sony Music in 2013 and was featured on Intel MTV Sound Trippin Season 1 as a music producer. He composed background music pieces for the show. He was adjudged BBC Introducing Artist in 2010. After being introduced on The Friction Show on BBC’s Asian Network UK, he was featured on the Tom Robinson Show on BBC 6 Music, UK. He also made it to the best of the BBC Asian Network Charts of 2010.
35. Dharamvir Singh
25, Mohali, Hockey player
Dharamvir was part of the team that won the gold in the 2014 Asian Games. The feat helped India qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. He has won medals in both the Commonwealth and Asian Games in 2010 and 2014. He started playing hockey at the state-run Chandigarh Hockey Academy in Sector 42 before shifting base to Punjab. A talented forward, Dharamvir has 117 international caps and has scored 31 goals. He joined the Chandigarh academy in 2002 and made his junior India debut in 2008. He was inspired to take up hockey after seeing his elder brother, Kulwinder, who played for the army.