Murlikant Petkar is a former Indian athlete and a Paralympic gold medalist. He is known for winning the first Gold medal for India in Summer Paralympics in 1972, and also for setting a world record by finishing the 50m freestyle swimming in 37.33 seconds.
Murlikant Petkar was born (also known as Murlikant Rajaram Petkar) on Wednesday, 1 November 1947 (age 75 years; as of 2022) in Peth Islampur region of Sangli, Maharashtra. He studied till 5th standard in his hometown. Later, he moved to Pune at his paternal aunt’s home, where he joined the Indian army in his teenage. Then he moved to the Bengaluru battalion.
Height (approx.): 5′ 9″
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Parents & Siblings
His father was a freedom fighter. He has five siblings.
Wife & Children
He is married and has a son named Arjun Petkar.
Murlikant Petkar joined the Indian army as a private or jawan of the craftsman rank in the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) at a very young age. After joining the army, he started participating in various service sports meet. He was discharged from the services in 1969.
While serving in the Indian army, he represented India in Boxing at the International Services Sports meet, held in Tokyo in 1964. He also won four medals in swimming at the same sports meet. After returning from Japan, he was transferred to Secunderabad, Telangana, where he started training to be an armourer and started preparing for Nationals. After suffering bullet wounds in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, Petkar had to give up boxing. However, he later took up some other supports such as swimming, javelin throw, and shot put. In 1967, he took part in the Maharashtra State Athletic Meet and became state champion in several sports such as Shot-put, Javelin throw, Discus throw, Weightlifting, Table Tennis, and Archery. In 1968, he represented India in the Summer Paralympics in table tennis and won the first round. In 1969, he participated in the Stoke Mandeville International Paraplegic Meet, held in England, where he won his first gold medal for swimming. He achieved the same feat once again in the same event in 1971. He participated in the 3rd Commonwealth Paraplegic Games held in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1970, where he bagged three international medals including a gold, a silver, and a bronze. Petkar reached the highest achievement of his life by winning gold in freestyle swimming at the Summer Paralympics, held in Heidelberg, Germany in 1972, and set the world record finishing time of 37.33 seconds.
He set another world record in 50m swimming at the International FESPIC Games, held in Hong Kong in 1982.
In an interview, he revealed that during his treatment in the INHS Asvini Hospital in Mumbai, the Tata Group visited the hospital and offered assistance to injured soldiers for their rehabilitation, where Petkar asked for employment opportunities in TELCO instead of financial aid. In 1972, he joined TELCO in Pune and worked there for almost 30 years. He served as a Senior Assistant in the Public Relations Department of the company.
One day, while Petkar was sleeping in the afternoon, a whistle signalled an aerial attack, which he thought was for a tea break, and he came out of his camp. When he realized that it was an alarm for an attack, he tried to rush back to his camp, but by that time, the fire had already begun. Pakistani troops targeted his army camp from the air, causing him to suffer nine gunshot wounds and be run over by an army vehicle. In an interview, he talked about it and 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.”
This tragic event left him paralyzed from the waist down for life, with a bullet still lodged in his spine.
- Gold at the Summer Paralympics, held in Heidelberg, Germany in 1972
- A Gold medal in 50-metre freestyle swimming, a Silver in javelin throw, and a Bronze in shot-put at the 3rd Commonwealth Paraplegic Games at Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1970
- Gold at the Stoke Mandeville International Paraplegic Meet in 1969
- Gold at the Stoke Mandeville International Paraplegic Meet in 1971
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- Best Swimmer Shield by Gen Manekshaw then Chief of Army Staff of Artificial Limb Centre Pune in 1971
- Set a world record in 1972 in the 50 m freestyle swimming with a finishing time of 37.33 seconds
- Gaurav Padak by then Mayor of Pune N. B. Limaye in 1973
- General Championship Cup for five consecutive years (1969-73)
- Special Prize for outstanding performance by Pune Jaycees in 1975
- Shiv Chhatrapati Award by the Government of Maharastra in 1975 (This was the first award given to a disabled athlete in India)
- Honoured by the President of All India Mayors Council, Mr Thorat for being the National Champion for 7 Years straight (1968-76) and felicitated on 26 January 1976 in Pune
- Krida Pratishthan Award by Shri Vijay Merchant on 5 April 1979
- Outstanding Sportsman Award by then Mayor of Pune in 1981
- Honoured by the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) in 2018
- Padma Shri Award by former President Ram Nath Kovind on 21 March 2018
In Popular Media
In 2023, a biopic titled ‘Chandu Champion’ was announced, based on the life of Murlikant Petkar. In the film, Kartik Aryan portrayed Murlikant Petkar. Before him, Sushant Singh Rajput was selected in 2016 to play the role. The film was directed by Kabir Khan.
- For his excellent boxing, he was called Chotu Tiger by his colleagues while serving in the EME.
- Petkar had a deep interest in sports since childhood. He was mainly good at wrestling, athletics, and hockey.
- In a wrestling match, once he defeated the village head’s son after which he was criticised by the village. After this, he moved to Pune and enrolled in the Bengaluru Battalion of the Indian Army, where he started playing boxing for service sports meets.
- In an interview, he revealed how he developed an interest in wrestling. He mentioned that on his way to school, there was a wrestler’s akhara (training ground) that he used to pass by. One day, a wrestler approached him and offered to treat him to a ‘thandai,’ a drink that Petkar loved, if he agreed to practice wrestling. After this, he started practising wrestling at the Akhara.
- In 1964, he expressed his desire to visit Kashmir when asked by his seniors for a coveted prize for his excellent performance in the International Services Sports meet. Later, they sent him to Kashmir for the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. In an interview, he talked about this and said,
I had not seen Kashmir then, so I told them to send me to Kashmir on a holiday.”
- After being wounded in the war, he was sent to Delhi for treatment. When he was admitted to Delhi for treatment, he made a wish to shift to the INHS Asvini Hospital (naval hospital) in Mumbai for further treatment.
- After being injured in the war, Petkar underwent several surgeries, and two years later, he had a sad reunion with his family. This left him feeling disheartened and abandoned, and he tried to commit suicide by taking 30 sleeping pills with alcohol at the INHS Aswini Naval Hospital in 1967.
- In 1967, a few minutes before he attempted suicide, a sweeper approached him for Rs 10 to play ‘matka’, a popular form of street gambling. Instead of Rs 10, he handed the sweeper a 100 rupee note. Then, the sweeper insisted that he (Petkar) too should try his luck in gambling. The next morning, Petkar came to know that he won Rs 40,000 in the ‘matka.’ He also survived the suicide attempt and experienced the sensation of urination for the first time since he was wounded in 1965.
- During his treatment at INHS Asvini Hospital in Mumbai, Petkar was asked by the physiotherapist to take up swimming as his legs were unresponsive. In an interview, he revealed that he started practising swimming at a pool near the hospital, where, at that time, a naval service team also practising for nationals. He further revealed that he met the former cricketer Vijay Merchant there, who encouraged him to perform the sport at international level competitions. Vijay Merchant also sponsored Petkar’s ticket to Germany, where he set a world record. In an interview, he talked about this and said,
Vijay Merchant was heading an NGO that supported disabled persons and his organisation paid for my tickets.”
- In 1982, the Government of India rejected Petkar’s claim for an Arjuna Award. In an interview, he talked about this and 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?”
- Petkar believes that appreciation awards inspire athletes to perform well for the country. After receiving the Padma Shri Award in 2018, he said,
I had never thought I would get a Padma. I don’t know who nominated me for this honour. But I do believe that this award would inspire other para-athletes.”
- The life story of Murlikant Petkar has been featured by various authors in their books including ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ by Aparna Jain, ‘Courage Beyond Compare’ by Medini Sharma, 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 2021, the CBSE board added his life story to the book ‘Reading Literacy.’