In the history of Indian boxing, Padma Shri Kaur Singh is the only boxer to have fought against the greatest boxing legend Muhammad Ali in the ring and given him a resilient fight, during an exhibition match in New Delhi in 1980.
Once known as the biggest boxing legend in India, Kaur Singh at 69 is an all but forgotten man struggling to repay a loan of Rs 2 lakh he borrowed from a private lender to fund his cardiac treatment.
Kaur Singh rose to fame in 1982 when he clinched the gold medal in the 1982 Asian Games. He was also honoured with the Arjuna Award in 1982 and bestowed the prestigious Padmashri in 1983.
He retired from boxing after representing India in 1984’s Los Angeles Olympics and winning two consecutive matches.
Kaur had joined the Indian Army in 1971 at the age of 23 as a havaldar. Soon after his retirement, he returned to his village, Khanal Khurd in Punjab. Even during his stint in the Army, he won laurels like the Vishisht Sewa Medal in 1988 and the honourable Sena Medal for his valour in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
Despite being a national boxing champion and winning over six gold medals in international boxing tournaments, Kaur did not get the required support he deserved when financial crises struck him.
When he was diagnosed with a cardiac ailment two years ago and needed a stent, only the Army came to his rescue. They helped him with Rs 3 lakh for his treatment. Even that did not suffice, which forced him to take a private loan of Rs 2 lakh from a lender for his treatment, which he repaid through his harvest.
But soon enough, he is again facing the same crunch for his treatment.
“This year, I had to borrow Rs 2 lakh again for hospital expenses in Mohali. The amount escalates to an additional Rs 50,000 within a span of 6 months as interest and my income is not tenable to repay the debt. I don’t know how I will return this encumbrance,” he told the Times of India.
Despite getting a pension from the Punjab government for his coaching job and a pension from the Army, his expenses seem to outgrow the amount he is earning. His debt still stood at Rs 2.5 lakh.
What is disheartening is during 1982, the then Punjab government had announced a cash award of Rs 1 lakh after he clinched a gold in the New Delhi Asiad, but the money never reached him.
“I was promised Rs 1 lakh which might be equal to Rs 20 lakh in contemporary times……Rs 8000 is just the expense of my monthly medicines. The visitation fees of the doctor, other life supporting expenditure at hospital sometimes accounts for much more, ” he was quoted in a TOI report.
He was later discharged from a private hospital in Mohali where he was undergoing treatment. His doctors told him his bodily functions were affected by the injuries he had suffered during his boxing days.
Baljeet who lost faith in the system has been struggling ever since. He discouraged his son from making a career in sports and is striving to take care of his bedridden wife Baljeet Kaur while taking care of his ailments.
How the Army came to his rescue again
After Kaur’s story grabbed media attention, the Indian Army yet again rushed to his rescue. They helped the yesteryear boxer with an amount of Rs 5.27 lakh, which was paid to the Mohali private hospital where he had been undergoing treatment.
Speaking to the Times of India, the Western Command headquarters of the Army confirmed that the Army would also be bearing the monthly cost of his treatment accounting to Rs 8000.
The authorities confirmed were quoted saying the Army’s outreach team met Kaur Singh in his village after reading media reports. “Kaur Singh is an army pensioner receiving a monthly pension of Rs 33,000 and was entitled to unlimited medical support through Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS),” they said.
Yet again, the Army has proven that it doesn’t forget its own heroes!