Indian President Ram Nath Kovind handed out the National Sports Awards on Thursday at a grand ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi. Paralympic silver-medallist Deepa Malik was awarded the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, becoming the first Indian woman para-athlete and the oldest, at the age of 49, to be conferred the award.
She shared the award with Asian Games gold medallist wrestler Bajrang Punia who was unable to attend as he is in Russia, training for the upcoming World Championships.
“I think the award is going to be a huge inspiration to women athletes in disability. It took 70 years for independent India to win a medal in Paralympic,” said Malik on the occasion.
Malik, a silver medallist in the shot put F53 category in the 2016 Rio Paralympics, is only the second para-athlete after double Paralympic gold-medallist javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia (who received the Khel Ratna in 2017) to have won the prestigious award.
World Championships bronze-medallist badminton player B Sai Praneeth, woman cricketer Poonam Yadav, Asian Games gold-winner heptathlete Swapna Barman, footballer Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, two-time world silver-medallist boxer Sonia Lather, Asian Games silver-medallist equestrian Fouaad Mirza, motorsports ace Gaurav Gill and Kabaddi captain Ajay Thakur were among 19 sportspersons who received the Arjuna Award.
Also missing from the awards ceremony were cricketer Ravindra Jadeja, Asian Games gold-medallist shot-putter Tejinder Pal Singh Toor, and silver-winner quartermiler Mohammed Anas, all of whom were picked for the Arjuna award this year.
Jadeja is currently with the Indian cricket team in the West Indies, while Toor and Anas are competing in the national inter-state athletics meet in Lucknow.
The National Sports Awards are given out on August 29 every year to commemorate the birth anniversary of hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand.
The Khel Ratna award carries a prize purse of INR 7.5 lakh, while the Arjuna awardees are given INR 5 lakh each along with citations.