From Olympic Hero To Zero To Being Murdered – The Prithipal Singh Story

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India loves Hockey and has proud tradition in the Olympic sport, unfortunately India also has a habit of forgetting it’s once loved heroes all to quickly, so today on the 36th year anniversary of his murder we take a minute to remind you of the Olympic champion Prithipal Singh.

‘The world’s most feared penalty corner specialist’ that is how Prithipal Singh will be remembered, but his speedy to rise to fame was short lived and one of the most treasured hockey players of his generation, Singh was killed by his own students in broad daylight at the campus of a Punjab university, the murderers got away scot-free.

Singh was a part of three successive hockey Olympic squads in the 1960s and each time, India came back with a medal.

Early years
Born in Nankana Sahib, now in Pakistan, on 28 January 1932. Prithipal Singh’s father Sardar Wadhawa Singh Chandi was a school teacher as well as an agriculturist.

Singh completed his MSc degree from Agriculture College, Ludhiana in Punjab. Good at both sports and studies, he received the ‘Roll of Honours’ from his college. After college, Singh joined the Punjab Police and participated in several hockey tournaments in Africa and Europe.

Scored 11 out of 22 goals in 1964 Olympics
As a result of his consistent performance in tournaments abroad, Singh was given a chance to participate in the 1960 Italy Olympics. India reached the finals, but lost against arch-rivals Pakistan and had to settle for a silver medal.

In 1961, Singh became the first hockey player to be honoured with the Arjuna award by former President Rajendra Prasad.

In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Indian team under the captaincy of Charanjit Singh won the gold after defeating Pakistan in the finals. Of the 22 goals scored in the tournament, Prithipal scored as many as eleven.

For his brilliant performance, Singh was awarded a Padma Shri by former President Zakir Hussain in 1967.

During the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Singh helped the Indian team clinch a bronze medal. He had served as a joint captain alongside Gurubux Singh in the tournament. He was, however, accused of creating a ‘negative environment’ in the dressing room.

The murder
Disappointed over India finishing third in the 1968 Olympics and facing criticism, Singh opted for retirement.

He then joined the Punjab Agricultural University and served as the director of sports as well as that of students’ welfare.

Little did anyone imagine that Singh would be murdered by students of his own university. In the morning of 20 May 1983, Singh’s body was pumped with bullets.

The university was, however, not new to such murders. At least six people had already died on the campus before Singh as a result of rivalry between union groups.

Following Singh’s murder, university sources told India Today, “Strict disciplinarian methods and his crusade to clean the campus of toughs and trouble-makers brought him inevitably into a head-on clash with the PSU elements.”

In 2015, a film was released based on his biography Prithipal Singh…A story (Watch it here in full)

Director of the film Babita Puri told The Pioneer, “When I heard the story, I didn’t believe that a three-time Olympic medalist who won silver in 1960 Rome, gold in 1964 Tokyo and bronze in 1968 Mexico, could be murdered and the killers would go scot-free.”

“We forgot about this first-ever hockey player who was bestowed with the Arjuna Award in 1961 and Padma Shri in 1967. The reason to make a film on his murder wasn’t to restart the trial but to tell a compelling story. You see a murder and you don’t even report it. If this incident would’ve taken place this today’s time, people would’ve helped in getting the justice delivered,” Puri had said.

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