Children of a Lesser Government

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A 14-year-old national swimming champion couldn’t make it to the Paralympics because someone forgot to send the papers.

A 14-year-old national swimming champion couldn’t make it to the Paralympics because someone forgot to send the papers.

Parth Hendre, a strong, bright 9th grader, is paralysed below the waist, but he’s been a minor celebrity since he was eight. After winning various national competitions and securing two spots in the Limca Book of Records, the swimming champ, who suffers from spina bifida (split spine), topped the national swimming tryouts in Haryana last year, and earned a spot in the team headed for the Tokyo 2009 Asian Youth Paralympic Games. The Games, which took place in early September, was to have been the highlight of 14-year-old Parth’s swimming career. “My first international event,” says Parth. As it turned out, this month has been the lowest point in the young man’s sports life.

The Indian team didn’t make it because, apparently, the players simply weren’t registered on time. Someone, its not clear who, forgot to do the paperwork. The Paralympic Committee of India (PCI), the Bangalore-based body that represents physically disabled sportspeople in India, blames the sports ministry. “What can we do if the government didn’t pay the fees on time and send the papers, you should ask someone in Delhi,” says CV Raghunath, the administrator of PCI. The Games, which took place in the second week of September, are organised by the International Paralympic Association for disabled sportspeople.

“We kept checking with them if everything was fine, and then on August 29 they just said ‘sorry, we forgot to send the papers so no one will represent India this time,’” says Kishore Hendre, Parth’s father.

It’s a big disappointment for Parth and his family, who use all their financial and emotional resources to keep the young man going. In 2003, he swam 14 km from Elephanta Caves to the Gateway of India, a feat that earned him a place in the Limca Book of Records. The Paralympics fiasco must rankle, though Parth makes it sound like he has begun to make his peace with it: “It’s just that what happened was so silly,” he says.

With Somdev Devvarman, Saina Nehwal, and the Hand of Paul, it’s been a heartening season for Indian sports. A rare run of successes that makes you naively imagine that perhaps now the Indian government will be less cavalier with its non-cricketing sportsmen. Apparently not.