On May 20, 1983, Prithipal Singh, a former hockey player and an Olympic champion also known as the King of short corner was shot dead in daylight outside the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) vice-chancellor’s office.
“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,” says Babita Puri who has directed the film Prithipal Singh...A Story, after 32 years of his death.
His journey from being a hockey champion to an assistant professor Panjab University came about due to a personality clash with Ashwini Kumar, who was then the president of Indian Hockey Federation (IHF). Prithpal’s dream of become the captain of India Hockey came to an end in 1968.
“Prithipal was very principled, righteous and had a man of strong convictions. Having been brought up during the partition, he carried a massive baggage coming from Pakistan at age 15. His obsession to beat Pakistan in the finals was like getting what he lost in Pakistan back then. He had a running battle with Ashwini Kumar. Even after 1964, Ashwini had all but dropped him from the team but was forced to take him in as there was no one as good as him.
“Prithipal wanted a promotion which didn’t happen and he joined the Northern Railways in 1968. Kumar then made two captains — Prithipal and Gurbux Singh, something unheard of at that time. This led to a lot of rancour as Gurubux was on Ashwini’s side. Eventually, Prithpal decided to quit hockey,” Sandeep Mishra, the executive producer and scriptwriter of the movie, tells you.
After quitting hockey, Prithipal joined Panjab University where he was also the deputy director of Youth Welfare. Even here, the controversy didn’t leave him and it finally led to his killing.
What makes Prithipal’s murder intriguing is that this simple man who adhered to principles and was extremely righteous, got caught in university politics and paid with his life. His murder happened because he was inadvertently caught in the crossfire of two groups. Earlier, an ex-student who Prithpal did not like, got killed by unidentified assailants. People thought Prithipal was responsible.
“That ex-student was shot by a rifle whereas Prithipal always had a revolver. He showed the revolver to the vice-chancellor and said: ‘Goli bandook se chali hai, mere paas toh hand gun hai’,” Mishra says, adding that the group of the ex-student supporting the slain student had promised that they would kill Prithipal.
Prithipal’s daughter was just two when he was murdered and has very little recollection about the incident. She prefers to not speak about the incident. “A movie has been made but I have nothing to say about it or my father,” she told this correspondent.
Prithipal is not the only sportsman to have been murdered and forgotten. On July 28, 1988, Syed Modi, eight-time National Badminton champion, was shot dead in lucknow while on coming out of the KD Singh Babu Stadium after a practice session. The police filed murder charges against Modi's wife Ameeta and her lover and then to be future husband Sanjay Singh.
In April 2008, Biranchi Das, who coached child marathon runner Budhia Singh, was gunned down in Bhubaneswar at his judo training centre by gangsters Raja Acharya and Chagala. The court sentenced both to life imprisonment.
Thirtyfour-year-old Sippy Sidhu, a national level shooter and a lawyer, was shot dead in a park in Sector 27 in Chandigarh on September 20, 2015. He had won the team gold along with Abhinav Bindra in the Punjab National Games in 2001. Investigation is still on.