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Budhia Singh: The Heartbreaking Story of World’s Youngest Marathon Runner

Deepak is an enthusiastic writer who excels in several fields and loves to uncover unheard stories.

Young Budhia Singh with one of the many trophies he won

Young Budhia Singh with one of the many trophies he won

All stories do not end on a happy note; in fact, some seek an ending in the lurch of destiny. In a country that worships cricketers, it is no shock that stars from other sports struggle to find space in the sky to twinkle. A four-year-old kid could make the whole world go crazy by running marathons, but the same guy at 18 is living at the mercy of God. He is the world's youngest marathon runner and, by far, the only one who saw a myriad of unusual things happening to him at such a tender age. Budhia Singh, the god gifted talent to India, has only two habits: running and running for long durations. The accomplishments of this young lad eat dust in a corner while he is deliberately kept away from the sport without concrete reasons. Budhia's life is full of tragedies, moments of agony, sadness, fame and happiness, thereby fit for a Bollywood film.

Sold in childhood

Budhia was born in 2002, in Odisha, in the precarious slums of Khurda District, where even basic amenities were a farfetched dream, leave alone the talk of getting educated. His father passed away when the child was in his rising days. Her mother used to do petty work in her locality to look after Budhia and her three daughters. Poverty was so acute in the family that Budhia was sold by his mother to a hawker for a meagre sum of Rs.850 when he was just two years old. Even before learning of numbers, he had become a commodity of commerce. The shabby child never got time to develop habits or completely recognise the people around him.

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The entry of hope

For Budhia, nothing changed. From one abject hut, he was transferred to another. The person who bought him wanted to use him as a slave, and the fact that he had paid for him only strengthened his intentions. The child suffered inhumane treatment at the hands of his master and was exposed to extreme hunger. Upon asking for food, he would be beaten mercilessly by him. It needed nothing short of a miracle to turn things around for the kid, and God sent a ray of hope in the face of Biranchi Das, a local judo coach and the president of the Saliasahi Slumdwellers' Association, who also ran a residential martial arts centre where he allowed slum and homeless children to lodge themselves and took care of them. He was a messiah for the slums where Budhia lived, for he worked towards the welfare of local people in whatever way he could. On a random visit to the child's house, Biranchi learned about him being sold to a man. Reacting swiftly to the development, he, along with some people, left no stone unturned in looking for Budhia, and after a fair amount of efforts, they found him in a tortured state at the man's place with some injuries.

A home away from home

Das paid the hawker and took the child back to his mother, and bore his medical expenses. He told her never to repeat her mistake, but the latter expressed a strong desire to somehow admit Budhia into Biranchi's house cum orphanage citing lack of resources and money to raise him on her own. The kind-hearted man could not say no to the helpless lady and agreed to admit Budhia.

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All things new

Heralding into new territory, the kid was nervous. In his early days at the accommodation, he would talk less and often find it challenging to communicate with other children. Slowly, the anxiety vanished as he got used to the atmosphere and started making friends. It was almost like a new life. Though his house was not far away, the way of living made all the difference. In the slums, all he had learned were abuses and swearing, which had become a regular part of his conversations. Budhia had a changed routine at his new home, where he would learn new things, meet new people, and little did he know that soon he was to get a new goal to run after as well.

A fairytale begins

One day, Biranchi learned that Budhia had used abusive words while talking to a child, and just like he would have done to anyone else, he served him a punishment. Before leaving for some work, he directed Budhia to take rounds of the lawn and not stop until his return from outside. The kid obliged and started running. When Das came back, unsurprisingly, the child was still running, but the shocking thing was that it was night by then, and Budhia had been making rounds all through the day without both a break and water. Das had utterly forgotten about the punishment while being busy at work. Upon seeing him running, he rushed him to a doctor, thinking that Budhia must have developed a lot of weakness, only to discover that he was perfectly alright. A kid running continuously for 7-8 hours without having a single drop of water was nothing short of a wonder.

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High hopes

Ever since the incident happened, Biranchi, a Judo coach, had many thoughts running inside his mind. Therefore, he decided to check it himself and took Budhia out for a run. He rode a bicycle and asked Budhia to jog ahead of him. Hours later, the coach was exhausted more than the child himself. Biranchi Das was now sure that he had a future marathon runner, who could represent India at the Olympics, in his realm.

Child prodigy

Soon, a stricter routine was prepared for Budhia, and his diet was infused with many protein-rich foods. Das also admitted the child to a school to make sure there were no compromises on that aspect. His day would begin with a run and would end with the same. Das would make him run longer, throwing a ruse of a new bicycle or a set of shoes, and the young talent would put in more determination and effort in his run. Day by day, his stamina was getting strengthened, and running the duration increased. His coach was preparing him meticulously for the big stage. Upon learning about the presence of some prominent politicians at a CRPF event nearby, Das somehow managed to convince the authorities to allow the child to showcase his talent over there. And, Budhia didn't disappoint at all as he ran his heart out in the scorching heat and received accolades from the audiences along with heavy state media coverage the next day.

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Breaking records

With his resilience and determination, words he could hardly spell, Budhia had become the wonder boy of Odisha. He completed many similar runs at the local level and furthered himself as the talk of the town. With the exposure came the wrath from some quarters as well. The Child Welfare Department started following the story sniffing exploitation of a minor child as reported in some media quarters. Away from all the developments at the sidelines, Das was preparing Budhia for one of the longest runs ever by an India, from Puri to Bhubaneshwar, covering 70 kilometres. However, the day didn't come without hurdles. The buzz surrounding the event forced the Child Welfare Department to attempt to stop the event. Biranchi had to fight a long battle with the authorities to roll the affair. Eventually, it happened, and Budhia once again proved his mettle. Thousands of people from across Odisha had gathered to watch the kid as the uniformed personnel guarded him, and the scorching temperature of 36 degrees posed a formidable challenge. At one stage during the run, he seemed like giving up well before the finishing line and breaking all the hopes that people had on him, but his sheer perseverance saved the day, and he ended up covering 65 kilometres before getting beaten by the heat. He did the unimaginable and put India once again in the international news for a good reason.

It was a day of eternal celebrations for the state. Along with ordinary people, many politicians also lined up to click pictures with him while promising to provide full financial support to Budhia's future endeavours.

Unforeseeable setback

While entire Odisha came to the streets when he was running the marathon, the visuals of an 'exhausted' Budhia, just a four-year-old kid, upset many people. To some quarters, it looked inhumane, forced, and a selfish act by Biranchi Das, who didn't even serve a drop of water to the child throughout his stint just so that he finishes the marathon and makes a world record. It didn't go down well with the National Human Rights Commission as it decided to take the matter into its hands and launched an inquiry. The events that occurred later were nothing short of a nightmare for the duo. The Child Welfare Department ordered Budhia to undergo medical tests to ascertain if he had suffered health deterioration due to the rigorous training process he was made to go through by his coach. A state minister termed him a monkey, forced to perform by his master.

Crunched between right and wrong

According to doctors, Budhia suffered from undernourishment, anaemia, and cardiological stress. Doors for any future participation were closed when the doctors warned that it might lead to growth retardation and kidney failure pushing his health further southwards. Suddenly, all the politicians changed sides, and the tables turned against the coach against whom a case of child abuse was filed. Biranchi tried to fight the system but failed miserably. All the efforts he had put in to nourish the athlete in Budhia went in vain, and the child's custody was also taken away from him.

On the other hand, the kid didn't even know what was happening around him. He was shifted to a government-run sports hostel and hasn't taken part in any competitive running events since then. At the age of 18, his abilities are dying a slow death with no opportunities being provided.

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Conclusion

More than a coach-student duo, it was a father-son relationship where both reciprocated the love for each other. Biranchi even adopted the child and became his legal guardian, but fortunes took a different path, and all the hard work was destroyed in months. Some years later, Biranchi Das was shot dead outside his house, and the fairytale ended on a tragic note. Not every talent can be harnessed in a large country like India, but the ones that we find should not be sacrificed for political gains. Only if Budhia were able enough to differentiate between right and wrong things would have been different. He is a forgotten star as no one knows him these days, but his story is yet to witness an end, and one can only hope for it to be a happy one.

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