From cycling glory to struggles as security guard, Swaran Singh fights on

Former international cyclist Swaran Singh, who now works as a security guard, will be heading to Ranchi to ask for help from Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren.

Representative Image: Swaran Singh represented India in the 1970 Asian Games in Bangkok.   -  The Hindu Archives

“I sometimes wonder if all of it was a mistake,” says 70-year-old Swaran Singh, a security guard at an apartment complex in Baridih, Jamshedpur.

Swaran is in the middle of a 12-hour-shift but doesn’t mind having a conversation about something that was for long his passion. “I was a part of the 1970 Asian Games cycling team. It used to be so different. Financially, we were in a much better place since my father used to work in the Post Office. So getting an imported cycle wasn’t difficult then,” Singh told Sportstar last Saturday.

Swaran had a keen interest in the sport as a kid and his dedication came through when he started winning national tournaments. It was only a matter of time before he got selected for the Asiad. “Asian Games chodhiye, hum toh Olympics mein bhi select ho jaate. Lekin federation ke paas funds kidhar thha? (Leave aside Asiad, I would have even made it to the Olympics if the federation had the funds to let us go.)”

At Bangkok 1970, Swaran finished sixth and a few years later, decided to join Tata Iron and Steel Company Limited as a senior sports assistant in the welfare department.

“I wasn’t happy at TISCO. I used to receive a payment of 200-250 rupees. How could I possibly get a bicycle worth seven lakh rupees with that? Naturally, I had to give up what I desired.”

He applied for voluntary retirement in 1994 to start his own transport company. “Initially, it seemed like all my problems had come to an end. And just when I was finally happy, my business started losing money. By 2005, we were done. I had lost everything.”

Swaran, however, didn’t want his son to endure the same financial challenges. “I don’t want him to face the difficulties I faced. Also, where is the money?” says Swaran, adding his son Jagraj now works as a chauffeur in New Delhi.

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Monetary help

Swaran, who plans to head to Ranchi soon to ask for monetary help from Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, continued, “I had registered my son’s name for employment under TISCO after my retirement. But even after so many years of requesting and pleading, he never got it. They said he was not qualified for it. Why... I have seen so many people there who haven’t even cleared their matric exam!”

Swaran earns Rs 10,000 per month working as a security guard out of which he pays Rs 2,500 for accommodation at the slum. His daughter, who is suffering from bone tuberculosis, and his wife lives in Rani Kudar, Jamshedpur.

The Cycling Federation of India, which recently got to know about Swaran’s plight, has “taken note” of the issue, says chairman Onkar Singh. “Yes, we got to know about the plight of Mr Swaran Singh. If he would have been a medalist, he would have automatically become eligible for a pension but since that’s not the case, we have decided to crowdfund some amount to help him. We will also get in touch with him to see what kind of help he requires. We are trying to get in touch with Tata Steel as well.”

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Helping a friend

Tata Steel’s chief of Sports Excellence Centres, Mukul Choudhari, however, said he is unaware of the development. “It hasn’t yet come up to my level. It isn’t something I am aware of... So, I wouldn’t be the right person to make any comments.”

Amar Singh, another Indian cyclist who made it to three editions of the Asian Games, said he will be helping “a friend out.” “There are many who have decided to help. If I would have known earlier, I wouldn’t have let this slide. We have created a group and will help him invest the amount we collect. Some of my friends from abroad are also willing to help.”

The Indian Olympic Association last week received an anonymous appeal to assist the poverty-stricken cyclist and since then, Swaran says many NGOs have inquired if they could help.

So, does that make him happy? Swaran says although it is heartening to see so many people offer help, he is yet to receive the promised financial assistance. “Khush toh hai! But pehle kuch mile toh...