Some Lesser Known Facts About Murlikant Petkar
- Murlikant Petkar is a former Indian athlete and Paralympic gold medalist. He made history by securing India’s first-ever gold medal in the Summer Paralympics Games in 1972 and setting a world record with a remarkable time of 37.33 seconds in the 50m freestyle swimming in the same event.
- After completing his studies till 5th standard in his hometown (i.e. Sangli, Maharashtra), he moved to his paternal aunt’s home in Pune.
- Since childhood, Petkar had a strong passion for sports, excelling particularly in wrestling, athletics, and hockey.
- In an interview, he revealed that during his childhood, Petkar once won a wrestling match against the village head’s son. However, this victory resulted in criticism from the villagers because of which he had to move to Pune.
- After shifted to Pune, he came to know about army recruitment and applied for it and later got selected for the Bengaluru Battalion.
- At a young age, Murlikant Petkar joined the Indian Army as a private or jawan in the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME). While serving in the army, he actively took part in different service sports events. In 1969, he received a discharge from the Indian Army.
- During his services in the Indian Army, he got the opportunity to take part in the 1964 International Services Sports Meet in Tokyo representing India in Boxing. In the same event, he had an outstanding performance in swimming and secured four medals.
- Following his return from Japan, he was posted to Secunderabad, Telangana, where he commenced his training as an armourer and dedicated himself to preparing for the National competitions.
- In 1964, when asked by his seniors for a reward for his excellent performance in the International Services Sports meet, he expressed his desire to visit Kashmir. Later, he was sent to Kashmir to serve during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. He talked about it in an interview and said,
I had not seen Kashmir then, so I told them to send me to Kashmir on a holiday.”
- In September 1965, one afternoon, while Petkar was sleeping in an army camp in Kashmir, a whistle signalled an aerial attack which he mistook for a tea break. Upon hearing the whistle, he came out of his camp and realised that they were attacked by the Pakistani troops. He tried to hurry back to his camp, but the firing had already begun by then in which he sustained nine gunshot wounds and was run over by an army vehicle. The incident caused his lower body paralyzed for the rest of his life, with a bullet still lodged in his spine. While talking about this in an interview, he said,
I was 18 then and was excited to see Kashmir. But when I went there, war broke out between India and Pakistan. I was not trained for war and was sleeping in my bunker when an emergency alarm rang. I thought it was an alarm for tea break and went out of my bunker. But then suddenly I saw Pakistani fighter planes raining bullets at us.” The Times of India
- Following his injury in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, he was sent to a hospital in Delhi for treatment. While undergoing treatment in Delhi, he expressed a desire to be transferred to the INHS Asvini Hospital (a naval hospital) in Mumbai for further medical care.
- In the aftermath of the war injury, Petkar had to undergo several surgeries, and after two years, he had a sad reunion with his family. The emotional distress led him to attempt suicide in 1967 at the INHS Aswini Naval Hospital by consuming 30 sleeping pills with alcohol. The Times of India
- In 1967, when Petkar was about to commit suicide, a sweeper approached him and requested Rs 10 to play the popular gambling game of that time ‘matka.’ Petkar give him Rs 100 instead of Rs 10. The sweeper then suggested that Petkar also try his luck in gambling. After which, he gave the sweeper Rs 100 more of his ticket. The following day, Petkar found that he had won Rs 40,000 in the ‘matka.’ Moreover, he not only survived the suicide attempt but also felt the sensation of urination for the first time since his injury in 1965.
- While undergoing treatment at INHS Asvini Hospital in Mumbai, the physiotherapist suggested that Petkar should take up swimming since his legs were not responsive. He followed the advice and began practicing swimming at a nearby pool, where a naval service team was also preparing for nationals at that time. It was during this time that he met the former cricketer Vijay Merchant, who encouraged him to participate in international-level competitions. Later, Vijay Merchant sponsored Petkar’s trip to Germany, where he went on to set a world record in swimming. While talking about it in an interview, he said,
Vijay Merchant was heading an NGO that supported disabled persons and his organisation paid for my tickets.”
- Due to the bullet wounds he suffered in the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War, Petkar had to quit boxing. However, he didn’t give up on sports and instead took up swimming, javelin throw, and shot put as his new pursuits.
- In the Maharashtra State Athletic Meet of 1967, Petkar won the state championship title in Shot-put, Javelin throw, Discus throw, Weightlifting, Table Tennis, and Archery.
- In 1968, he participated in the Summer Paralympics, where he represented India in table tennis. He won the first round of the table tennis match.
- In 1969, he competed in the Stoke Mandeville International Paraplegic Meet, which took place in England. It was in this event that he secured his first gold medal for swimming. He repeated this achievement in the same event in 1971, winning another gold medal for swimming.
- In 1970, he represented India in the 3rd Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Edinburgh, Scotland and earned three international medals – a Gold medal in 50-meter freestyle swimming, a Silver medal in javelin throw, and a Bronze medal in shot-put.
- In 1972, he participated the Summer Paralympics in Heidelberg, Germany, where he won a gold medal in freestyle swimming and became India’s first Paralympic gold medalist. He also set a new world record with a remarkable finishing time of 37.33 seconds.
- In an interview, Petkar revealed that while he was undergoing treatment at INHS Asvini Hospital in Mumbai, the Tata Group visited injured soldiers in the hospital and offered help to them for their rehabilitation. When they asked Petkar, what did he want, he made a wish for employment opportunities at TELCO (Tata Engineering and Locomotive Co.) instead of financial aid.
- In 1972, he joined TELCO in Pune and worked there for nearly three decades. He held the position of Senior Assistant in the company’s Public Relations Department.
- In 1982, at the International FESPIC Games in Hong Kong, he achieved another remarkable feat by setting a world record in the 50m freestyle swimming.
- In an interview, Petkar revealed an interesting fact about taking up wrestling as his passion. how he developed an interest in wrestling. He revealed that while going to school, he used to pass by a wrestling training ground called ‘akhara.’ One day, a wrestler offered him his (Petkar’s) favourite drink, ‘thandai,’ as a reward for practising wrestling. This encouraged him to start wrestling at the akhara.
- In an interview, Petkar revealed that the Government of India rejected his claim for the Arjuna Award in 1982, which left him disheartened. He said,
I broke the world record but I did not beg for an Arjuna Award. Now, the government’s rule is to file the application and do a police verification and all. I have broken the world record and the government knows everything about me. The government should come to me and ask me for my details. Why should I go to them?
- Various authors have featured the life story of Murlikant Petkar in their books. Some of these books include ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ by Aparna Jain, ‘Courage Beyond Compare’ by Medini Sharma and Sanjay Sharma, ‘Pravas Vadali Divyancha’ by Sharda Gaikwad, ‘Go India’s Sporting Transformation’ by Nandan Kamath and Aparna Ravichandran, and ‘Sankalp Se Siddhi Tak’ by Vinay Jaiswal.
- In the year 2021, the CBSE board incorporated Petkar’s life story the book titled ‘Reading Literacy.’