Cheered by thousands, a 4-year-old boy dubbed "India's Forrest Gump" who was nearly sold by his impoverished mother ran 40 miles Tuesday to enter the country's foremost record book.
Budhia Singh, a slum resident from the eastern state of Orissa whose talent was discovered by a local sports coach, was escorted by doctors and 300 cadets of the Central Reserve Police Force, which plans to sponsor his upbringing.
Budhia had planned to run 43 miles, but doctors stopped him after 40 miles when he showed signs of extreme exhaustion.
Officials of Limca Book of Records, India's best-known record book, witnessed the run and said it would be included in its 2007 edition, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
"Budhia Singh completed the distance in seven hours and two minutes, which is an Indian record. This is perhaps a world record too. No other kid at his age has completed a distance of 65 kilometers (40 miles) at one go," said his coach, Biranchi Das.
Throngs cheer along route
The boy offered prayers before dawn at Jagannath Temple, a deeply revered Hindu shrine in Puri town, and then began his run to Bhubaneswar, the state capital, on a highway lined with palm trees. Thousands stood along the road, cheering him on.
Das said the boy would have completed the 43 kilometers if he hadn't been interrupted frequently by enthusiastic supporters and television reporters after entering Bhubaneswar. Many rushed to place garlands around his neck even before he could complete the run.
Budhia's father has died and his mother, unable to support him, was about to sell him to another villager two years ago when he was rescued by the coach.
"Poverty had driven Budhia's mother to sell the fatherless kid to another person when me and my wife reached the slum and rescued him," Das said.
Punishment becomes a revelation
The coach had earlier seen Budhia's talent when the boy accidentally entered a sports ground without permission and was asked to run laps as punishment. When the coach returned five hours later, the boy was still running.
Budhia has gained swift popularity in India. He is being likened by the Indian media to Forrest Gump, the fictional book and movie character who is ridiculed by peers for using leg braces, but overcomes his disability when he discovers that he can "run like the wind blows."
"I loved running today. I can run as much as I want," the 4-year-old boy told reporters after the run, sitting bare-chested but appearing tired.
Then he sucked his thumb.
Accusations of abuse
An Indian human rights group on Wednesday urged action against officials in the state of Orissa who it said had endangered Budhia’s life with the run in sweltering temperatures.
The Asian Center for Human Rights said the National Human Rights Commission of India should press for disciplinary measures against senior state government officials who took part.
"It is an act done so rashly or negligently to endanger human life or the personal safety of others as defined under section 336 of the Indian Penal Code," Suhas Chakma, the center's director, said in a statement.
Critics lashed out at Das. But the coach said doctors had found nothing wrong with Budhia after his run.
Chakma urged the human rights commission to ensure that a team of medical experts examined the boy, said to train for several hours a day, to assess his health.
Das denied he was exploiting his ward for money.
"He is a wonder boy. ... Running comes naturally to him," he told Reuters.