They dreamt. They dared and excelled. So can you

The sterling achievements may be varied but they share a common thread of hard work, focus and perseverance.
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By HT Correspondents
UPDATED ON JAN 30, 2020 10:20 PM IST

We at Hindustan Times value the youth brilliance and their ability to inspire. Showcased in HT’s eighth annual listing are achievers from Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. They represent an array of fields — from defence to sports, entrepreneurs to academics, entertainment to rural development. They are the leaders of change.

1. Captain Tania Sher Gill, 26, Hoshiarpur, woman army officer

Achievement: Captain Sher Gill is the first woman officer to become parade adjutant of the Indian Army and also led an all-male contingent at the Republic Day parade this year. The 5’9’’ tall officer with a booming voice is a fourth generation soldier. She studied engineering in electronics and telecommunications and was commissioned into the Corps of Signals two years ago. At present, she is posted at 1-Signal Training Centre, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh.

Secret of success: Focus, consistency, hard work and discipline are the secret of her success.

By the way: Her hobbies include photography, travelling and listening to music.

2. Devdarshdeep Singh, 25, Patiala, PCS topper of 2018

Achievement: An alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and a civil engineer, Devdarshdeep topped the 2018 Punjab Civil Services exam. He was also selected for the Indian Forest Service after he secured an all-India 12th rank.

Aim: He wants to work for stemming the drug problem; improving education and environment conservation.

Role model: His parents are his inspiration and he learnt the values of perseverance and dedication from them.

What youth want: Today’s youngsters expect jobs on a platter, which should change. Youngsters should strive to be job creators rather than job seekers.

Vision for India: Wants to see intolerance and sectarianism dissipate.

3. Panthdeep Singh, 28, sarpanch of Chhina village, Gurdaspur

Achievement: The panchayati raj ministry has made a film on how he transformed his village with innovative methods and limited resources. Rejecting an MNC job, he chose to lead the change. He says local governance is management and his masters in business economics degree is coming handy.

Role model: He credits his elder sister, Maninder Kaur, and State Institute of Rural Development, Mohali, head Rozy Veid with shaping his course of action. He is inspired by Bhagat Puran Singh Pingalwara and Mother Teresa for their selfless service.

What youth want: Youngsters want basic amenities for every citizen. However, they shouldn’t hold the government responsible for everything, rather they should realise their responsibilities and potential.

What next: Transforming his village into a model one by ensuring its holistic development, using very limited sources. Also wants to make villagers aware of their rights.

4. Shreya Sharma, 26, actor, Shimla

Achievement: At 11, Shreya made her acting debut with The Blue Umbrella (2005). She acted in two films, Mahek (2007), which was nominated for the best children’s film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Australia, and A Decent Arrangement (2011). She wants to direct a movie some day. She took a hiatus from acting to complete my studies and would like to get back to it again.

Role model: She says her parents taught her to give her 100% to whatever she does, while director Vishal Bhardwaj has been a mentor.

Vision for India: She hopes there is more freedom of expression and people are tolerant of other’s opinions.

5. Lt Arjun Thakur, 22, Hamirpur, best cadet at IMA

Achievement: Lt Thakur won the Sword of Honour for being the best cadet of his batch at the Indian Military Academy in 2018. He belongs to the remote Hanoh village in Himachal Pradesh’s Hamirpur district and cracked the NDA entrance in 2014.

Secret of success: He believes in consistent hard work with a driving force, which in his case is his family. He admits times were tough but what kept him going was the ‘never twins’: Never give up and never give in.

Role model: He wants to serve the army to the best of his ability and looks up to Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw for leadership, courage, planning and sense of humour.

What youth want: He says youngsters are capable and talented and need to be trusted.

6. Jaani, 30, Gidderbaha, lyricist

Achievement: Jaani’s songs stand out because of their unusual lyrics. His lines are meaningful and catchy. His songs have attracted youngsters tuned in to the Punjabi music industry.

Secret of success: He says his secret is hard work, nothing else. He admits people think he sleeps longer than he actually does, which is only three hours. Music composer B Praak agrees that Jaani is successful because of his hard work and dedication towards his work.

Role model: Gulzar is his inspiration for he has been around for nearly five decades yet his songs are fresh and relatable.

What youth want: He is proud that young Indian poets are thinking out of the box and taking up a career in writing. He loves to compose and listen to his own music and when he’s not working, he is playing video games.

7. Gurjeet Singh, 25, Tarn Taran, sculptor

Achievement: A village lad from Algoni Kothi in Tarn Taran, Gurjeet brought a breath of fresh air to the Chandigarh College of Art by choosing to sculpt and paint in fabric, raising the folk art of rag dolls or ‘guddian-patole’ to innovative and evocative art. While still in college doing his Masters of Art, he received awards, including the Amrita Shergil Award, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018, national travel grant by Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi and the month-long residency by Khoj International Artists’ Association, New Delhi.

Role model: He says he owes his success to family support. His art was inspired by the weaving, knitting, stitching and embroidery his mother, aunt and sisters did. He looks up to his father and elder brother, artists Thukral and Tagra, besides artists Manjot Kaur and Diwan Manna.

What next: He wants to participate in national and international residencies, learn from others and to develop his art further to highlight the compelling issues of society.

Vision for India: He hopes India in 2020 is more aware about the growing population, climate change, declining economy, and pollution.

8. Mallika Khaneja, 23, Panchkula, artist

Achievement: Her’s is a spirit no disability could steal away. Mallika was born in 1996 to a doctor father and counsellor mother, Rajiv and Leena Khaneja, but affected by asphyxia — as the umbilical cord wound itself around her neck resulting in damage — she suffered cerebral palsy, affecting both her mind and body. However, with all her limitations and guidance from parents and help from younger sister Mehar, she achieved what may have been impossible for another child in her situation. Taking art as a subject in Class 12, she went on to do her Masters in Fine Arts in the special category of the Chandigarh College of Art. An active participant in exhibitions and workshops, she was honoured by the Indian Medical Association on Women’s Day for remarkable courage in crossing hurdles and achieving her aims.

Secret of success: With will power and a cheerful temperament, she forged a network of friends within her working environment. She believes in focused and sincere work and intends working as an artist for helping learning disabled and blind students who can benefit from the sale of her exhibits.

What next: She wants to travel and put up solo exhibitions besides participating in group shows. Her sister has been her emotional support, while teachers, friends and cousins have offered social support.

Role model: She is inspired by actor John Abraham because of his positive roles on screen and his discipline towards health.

Vision for India: She wants India to set an example to the world in being a great nation!

9. Sub lieutenant Jasleen Kaur, 23, Banur, navy officer

Achievement: Jasleen Kaur is the only woman from Punjab to have been selected as a sub lieutenant in the Indian Navy in 2017. On the completion of the 85th permanent commission course, she was awarded the Book Prize for being the best in ground subjects. Coming from a patriarchal society, she is happy that the mindset is gradually changing with families reposing more faith in daughters. She believes she’s an achiever because she has inspired young girls to live a new way of life with dignity and serve the nation.

Role model: She credits her family for believing in her and says though she was never a topper, her brothers always supported and motivated her to pursue what her heart desired.

What next: She wants to be a naval architecture officer who is part of the team that builds the most advanced indigenous war platform as part of Make in India.

What youth want: She believes today’s youngsters have the potential to excel and only need to have faith in themselves when the opportunity to prove their mettle arises. She loves teaching children and the spark in their eyes makes her happy.

10. Arshdeep Singh, 11, Jalandhar, photographer

Achievement: Growing up, Arshdeep saw his father, Randeep Singh, who runs a tyre business, pursue his passion for photography on the side. On his fifth birthday, he was gifted a camera. By seven, he was spending time in the jungles, capturing wildlife through his lens. His first shot, he says, was a white egret at Harike Wetlands. Since then, he has won several awards, including the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 2018, Young Comedy Wildlife of the Year, 2018, Young Asian Wildlife Photographer of the Award and the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 2018.

Role model: His deep love for nature and looks up to wildlife photographer Tim Lennon for inspiration.

Vision for India: Arshdeep appeals against deforestation and wants an end to mindless construction that is destroying our jungles. In 2020, he hopes India emerges a more inclusive and aware country, where humans and animals coexist, with mutual respect.

11.Shreedha Singh, 27, Gurugram, entrepreneur

Achievement: Shreedha is the co-founder and CEO of the house of Khadi Essentials, a brand of organic and wellness products, that marry the ancient recipes of Ayurveda with contemporary science. They are mostly vegan, cruelty-free and worthy of being exported to the European market.

Secret of success: Shreedha says the secret of her success is to stay a student throughout and be receptive. Her mother used to say if the vessel is full, it won’t be able to accommodate anything new.

Role model: Albert Einstein is her role model for his unconventional thoughts and lifestyle. He was humble and well-rounded.

What youth want: She believes youngsters in India are more aware and informed than ever before. They want quality and value for money. They don’t want to settle for less. They are quick decision-makers and open to new ideas.

Vision for India: She hopes India becomes plastic-free and believes that waste management should be a priority for a big country like ours.

What next: She wants to open an educational institute or a health facility for the underprivileged.


12. Karandeep Kochhar, 20, Chandigarh, golfer

The golfer who turned professional in 2017 had yet another strong year in the Indian golfing circuit, finishing fourth in order of merit with earning a little more than Rs 30 lakh. Kochhar decided to take up golf early and has been trained and honed at the Chandigarh Golf Club. He hogged the limelight when, as an amateur, he won the Eastern India Open Championship in Kolkata in 2016. His best finish in 2019 was second place in the Bengaluru Open. He is still searching for his maiden win as a professional. He finished third twice in the 2019 season in the Jeev Milkha Invitational and Bengal Open.

What next: Earn a full Asian tour card.

13. Shubman Gill, 20, Mohali, cricketer

Shubman rose to fame when he was named man of the tournament in the U-19 World Cup in 2018 in New Zealand that India won. Considered to be the most talented young cricketers among the present crop of players in India, 2019 saw him make his ODI debut against New Zealand. However, he could not cement his place. Also, at the age of 19 years and 334 days, Shubman hit a double century for India A against West Indies A in an unofficial Test to became the youngest Indian batsman to score a double century in first-class cricket, surpassing Gautam Gambhir’s record.

What next: To stay in Indian ODI and Test teams.

14. Taniya Bhatia, 22, Chandigarh, cricketer

She is the first woman cricketer from Chandigarh to have played for India. Taniya, who made her T20 and ODIs debut for India in 2018, has been doing a sensational glove-work ever since. A part of the Indian women’s cricket team for the T20 World Cup to be held in Australia from February 21, 2020, this will be Taniya’s second T20 World Cup. Having trained under coach Yograj Singh in her formative years, Taniya has the most stumpings (37) in T20 cricket for India now.

What next: To help India win the T20 World Cup.

15. Harleen Deol, 21, Chandigarh, cricketer

Harleen shifted base from Chandigarh to Dharamshala in search of better cricket facilities at 13 and made her ODI and T20 debut for India in 2019 against England. Due to a toe injury, she had to miss the India A tour to Australia last year. Fit again, she is now eyeing success in the Tri-Nation series and T20 World Cup, both in Australia. A product of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Academy, a residential academy at Dharamshala, she is a useful all-rounder for future.

What next: To help India lift the T20 World Cup.

16. Arjun Azad, 18, Chandigarh, cricketer

An attacking opening young batsman, Arjun was part of the India U-19 team that clinched the Youth Asia Cup in Sri Lanka in 2019. The youngster was adjudged the player of the tournament as he had smashed 121 runs against Pakistan in the tournament. Though he missed a berth in the India U-19 team for the World Cup, Arjun is known in cricket circles for his talent.

What next: To make a first-class debut.

17. Parveen Kumar, 22, Rohtak, wushu player

Parveen created history by becoming the first Indian man to win gold in the wushu world championship last year. He defeated Russel Diaz of the Philippines to clinch gold in the 48-kg category in the men’s sanda event of the 15th World Wushu Championship held in Shanghai. The Rohtak lad started with boxing and later switched to wushu. He won gold in the 2015 senior national championship and later got a job under the sports quota in Assam Regiment. He also has a silver medal in the Asian championship to his credit.

What next: To win a medal in the next Asian Games in China in 2022.

18. Manju Rani, 20, Rohtak, boxer

The Rohtak boxer created history by clinching the silver in the 48-kg category during her debutant world championship in Russia last year. Indian women ended their world meet campaign by winning four medals — a silver and three bronze — and Manju was the only Indian woman boxer to make it to the final of the global meet. She lost to a local favourite. She also won a silver at the Strandja Memorial Boxing tournament in Bulgaria in 2019. She hails from Rithal Phogat village in Rohtak and lost her father in 2010. He was with the Border Security Force and died of cancer.

What next: Podium finish at 2024 Olympics

19. Simranjeet Kaur, 24, Ludhiana, boxer

Simranjeet is a seasoned boxer who won the bronze in the 64-kg category in the AIBA World Women Boxing Championship in Delhi in 2018. Last year, she made it to the final of the Asian Championship and settled for the silver. A product of the Sher-e-Punjab Academy at Chakar village in Ludhiana district of Punjab, Simranjeet won the bronze in the Youth World Championship in 2013 and since then she is a regular face in the Indian squad. At present, she is part of the Indian squad that will compete for the Tokyo Olympics berth in the Asian-Oceania qualifiers to be held in Jordan in March.

What next: Tokyo Olympics qualifier

20. Amit Panghal, 24, Rohtak, boxer

The Haryana boxer is considered a potential medallist in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He surprised everyone by clinching the gold in the 2018 Asian Games. On his pursuit to the golden debut in the continental games, Panghal defeated reigning Olympic champion Hasanboy Dusmatov of Uzbekistan. In the next year, he became the first-ever Indian male boxer to enter the final of the world championship and went on win the silver in the 2019 world meet in Russia. Coming from a farming background, Panghal hails from Mayna village in Rohtak and is the new poster boy of Indian boxing. He made it to the Indian senior’s squad in 2017 and in two years he is rated as the world’s top boxer in his category. He is part of the Indian squad that will compete for the Olympic qualifiers in Jordan in March.

What next: Podium finish in Tokyo Olympics

21. Sandesh Jhingan, 26, Chandigarh, footballer

Defender Jhingan forms the backbone of Indian football team’s defensive lines. He plays for Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League (ISL). Having started his football at St Stephen’s Academy, his international debut came against the United Arab Emirates in 2014. He has 36 international matches under his belt and was also Indian Super League’s Emerging Player of the Year in 2014. The same year, he won the All India Football Federation Emerging Player of the Year award. He idolises Paolo Maldini. Jhingan suffered the ACL tear during a friendly match between Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United FC in October last year and is recuperating at present.

What next: To be available for Team India selection besides working on his book

22. Vinay Lal, 20, Chandigarh, para-sports (athletics)

Achievement: Defying polio, Chandigarh’s quartermiler Viney Lal clinched bronze in the World Para-Athletics Championship in Doha in 2019. Before making it to the podium at the world-level meet, Viney clinched the bronze in the 400m event of the 2018 Para-Asian Games in Indonesia. Coming from a family of doctors and engineers, Viney always wanted to do something different. So, he zeroed down on sports and he never felt that polio was a hurdle. He even won the bronze in the 100m race (abled body) in the Haryana U-16 Athletics Championship in 2015. Later, he started competing in para sports. Till date, he has competed in more than 10 international meets.

What next: To qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics

23. Surinder Kumar, 26, Kurukshetra, hockey player

Achievement: The seasoned defender in the Indian men’s hockey squad is a veteran of more than 100 international matches. He was part of the Indian team that participated in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Since 2016, he is a regular face in the Indian squad and played in all major tournaments except the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. He was also part of the 2018 Asian Games bronze-medal winning squad. Surinder was part of the 2018 World Cup, which was hosted in India. Though India finished outside the medal bracket, his performance got him accolades and he was the only Indian in the World XI announced in January 2019.

What next: Medal in Tokyo Olympics

24. Sumit, 23, Sonepat, hockey player

Achievement: Poverty was a companion for the boy, now a key midfielder in the Indian men’s hockey squad. Going to bed hungry or after having just plain bread — the family couldn’t even afford milk — travelling ticketless on trains to saving money for fruits or a meal at inter-district hockey competitions were the norm. The son of a Dalit landless labourer, Sumit is now the hero of the predominantly Jat village of Kurad. Sonepat, the Mecca of Indian wrestling, can now boast of a World Cup hockey player as well. Sumit was part of the 2016 Junior World Cup winning team and 2018 Asian Champions Trophy. He is playing the FIH Pro League at present.

What next: Medal at Tokyo Olympics

25. Manpreet Singh, 27, Jalandhar, hockey player

Achievement: The twice Asian Games medallist, Manpreet is a veteran of more than 240 international matches. He was named skipper of the Indian men’s hockey team in 2017 and in the same year went to lead the team to gold at the Asia Cup. Last year, he led India to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. His first major tournament was at the 2012 London Olympics and was part of the 2014 Asian Games gold medal winning squad. In the 2018 edition of the continental games, he led India to a bronze medal finish. Manpreet, who got a job of a deputy superintendent of police in Punjab Police under the sports quota, will be eyeing his third successive Olympics in Tokyo.

What next: Medal at Tokyo Olympics

26. Sonia Lather, 27, Jind, boxer

Achievement: After trying her hand in kabaddi and wrestling, Sonia switched to boxing at 18. Two years later, she went on to win the silver in the Asian Championship in 2012 and in the same year, she competed in the World Championship where she made a first round exit. But four years later, she made it to the podium finish at the 2016 World Championship by clinching bronze in the 57-kg category. In 2019, Sonia was conferred with the country’s highest sporting honour, the Arjuna Award. Employed with Indian Railways, Sonia also competed in the 2018 Asian Games.

What next: To qualify for Tokyo Olympics

27. Yashaswani Deswal, 22, Panchkula, shooter

Achievement: With the focus firmly on the Tokyo Olympics, she upstaged multiple Olympic medallist Olena Kostevych of Ukraine to clinch the gold in the 10-m air pistol in the year’s last World Cup in Rio de Janeiro in September last year. She secured the ninth Olympic berth for the country in the process. Having topped the qualification rounds with 582/600, Deswal shot 236.7 points in the final to finish on top. Deswal took up the sport in 2012 and four years later she broke the junior world record, announcing her arrival on the global stage. Last year, she competed at the World University Games, where she finished fourth.

What next: Medal at Tokyo Olympics

28. Kavinder Singh Bisht, 24, Uttarakhand, boxer

Achievement: Before the podium finish in the senior national championship, Kavinder won the silver in the 56-kg category of the Asian Championship last year. On his way to the final, he upstaged reigning world champion Kairat Yeraliyev on a split 3-2 verdict. He belongs to the remote Shimkhola village of Pithoragarh district, where cultivation is difficult and youngsters have no choice but to look for government jobs. Following in the the footsteps of his father and cousins, Bisht opted for the defence forces and joined the Indian Air Force under the sports quota. It was only after joining the services that his sports career took a vertical growth.

What next: To qualify for Tokyo Olympics

29. Mandeep Singh, 25, Gurjant Singh, 25, and Sunny Goyat, 25, Punjab and Haryana, para-cricketers

Achievement: Mandeep and Gurjant, both from Tarn Taran district of Punjab, and Sunny from Jind were part of the 16-member Indian squad that created history by winning the first-ever T20 Physical Disability Cricket World Series, organised by the England and Wales Cricket Board. Mandeep, who can bowl at 130kmph, is a feared by many a batsman in the Indian physically challenged cricket circuit. As a wicketkeeper-batsman category before his accident, Mandeep once harboured big dreams but destiny had other things in store for him. He made it to the junior state camp but met with a freak accident on the first day. A chaff-cutter claimed his left hand and his dreams. But the player in him couldn’t think of giving up cricket and he took to bowling instead. His speed soon made him an indispensible asset in the para cricket.

Gurjant has a club hand since birth. Even without professional coaching and facilities he made it to the Indian para-cricket team and is one of the country’s most lethal bowlers.

Goyat was not even in the 16-member India squad for the World Series. He was among the four player on standby who travelled with the team. However, Goyat’s fortune smiled on him when he was picked in the playing XI for the final of the T20 series against England after all-rounder Debabrata Roy got injured. The Haryana pacer made most of the opportunity and took two crucial wickets (2-23) to help India beat England by 36 runs to lift the trophy.

What next: To play more tournaments for India

30. Wasim Iqbal, 26, and Aamir Hassan, 20, J&K, para-cricketers

Achievement: Wasim and Aamir were part of the 16-member Indian squad that won the first-ever T20 Physical Disability Cricket World Series, organised by the England and Wales Cricket Board. The physical challenged cricket team from Jammu & Kashmir participated in the national circuit for the first time in 2018 and emerged champions. Opening batsman Wasim, who has a stiff knee in the right leg, is from Anantnag, while pacer Aamir, whose fingers are amputated from the left hand, is from Baramulla. They were the driving force behind J&K’s debut win. They played a crucial role in India’s victory in the England outing. Aamir was a month old when the fingers of his left hand were burnt and had to be amputated due to an infection. But disability never came in his way and he played cricket like any other abled body player. He had even represented J&K in the Under-19 school nationals and regularly played in Kashmir’s A Division (senior category). It was during a coaching camp in Kashmir that former Indian fast bowler Irfan Pathan noticed his disability and encouraged him to simultaneously try his hand at physically challenged cricket. Aamir’s bowling can touch 130km/hr.

What next: To play more tournaments for India

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