India’s top women athletes and sportspersons were felicitated at ZEE News Fairplay Awards in New Delhi on Thursday. The awards, first introduced in 2018, recognise and honour women for their outstanding achievements in the field of sports. This year, several women athletes who have made their mark at international level during the last year were felicitated.

Indian mountaineer Bachendri Pal was conferred with Lifetime Achievement Award at Zee News Fair Play Awards. Those honoured on the evening included shooters Anjum Modgil, Heena Sidhu and Rahi Jeevan Sarnobat as well as table tennis player Manika Batra, weightlifter Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, and wrestler Vinesh Phogat.

Padma Bhushan Bachendri Pal on receiving the lifetime achievement award was asked about her Mount Everest summit, she said, “When we start a journey to the top of any mountain, we face life and death situations, and as we reach on top we are worried for our safe return. So uppermost in my mind was, ‘while climbing we faced so much difficulty, so return will be how much more difficult’, because usually in mountaineering, most accidents take place while returning back.

“So when I reached the top, we stayed there for about 40 minutes because weather conditions were comparatively better that day. I took a Durga murti with me and placed it on top of Everest. I even carried a Hanuman Chalisa with me. When we started descending slowly, people made us realise that we have done a good job or a big job and after that, I can surely say that the planning for the second Everest summit started.”

Padma Bhushan Bachendri Pal also thanked people who had helped her in her journey to achieve success. She said, “I am so fortunate that Tata Steel provided such a wonderful platform. They fully empowered me. When people were not ready to send girls outside the house especially for such a risky sport, at that time Tata Steel trusted me. Tata Steel has several visionaries and leaders and I think because of that I am here today.

“I am so grateful to my parents and the pillar support of Tata Steel and Zee News for this lifetime achievement award. I am so grateful for this wonderful gathering and memories and I can only say that each one can make a difference and the recognition I have received by Zee News, this further strengthens my belief that all of us can build a better tomorrow.”

Dutee Chand who won the award was about her struggles of coming back on the field and how she was questioned by authorities. The sprinter said, “Firstly I would like ZEE Media for the award. My life has been full of struggles. In 2014, “hyperandrogenism” rule was applied on me and I was removed from Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

“I was very confused if I could make a comeback. I appealed in the court and fought the case and made a comeback. I then went on to participate in the Rio Olympics.

“Whatever happened was not my fault. The hormones in my body are natural and its God who has created us, still they applied the rule on me and removed me but I still managed to make a comeback.”

Indian shooter Heena Sidhu was honoured at Zee News Fair Play Award. Her husband and coach Ronak Pandit received the award from WION’s Sports Editor Digvijay Singh Deo.

She joined the event through live video. When asked about her struggles, she said, “I have been a shooter for the past 12 years. And I have faced many challenges sometimes from within and sometimes from outsiders. I also felt like quitting. But playing the same sport for the past 12 years, it does not remain a sport anymore; it’s a lifestyle.

“I think you can’t be a champion on the lane, you have to be a champion in life and this is something I have learnt from my sport – you keep learning every day, you keep your head down and you work. I have learnt how to be humble and how to follow the process and just keep working hard.”

The second-lifetime achievement award was given to Suma Shirur. When asked about her struggles, she said, “When I started shooting about 25 years ago, that time people did not even know that shooting was an Olympic sport.

“My first two years went in gathering knowledge about the sport, and the next five years went in gathering equipment. So I started pretty late my shooting career. When I became ready as a shooter, with all the technical knowledge and equipment, it was already time for me as I was married and I got pregnant and then I had a child, so gathering everything I realized time is running out.

My real career began after I had my first child. That’s the biggest challenge I think for women, especially when u start late. When I started and at my time there were only six or seven female participants in the state championships and now you can easily add two more zeros to the number of participants. And I am very happy that today there is a complete award function dedicated to women athletes.”