Restoring the dignity of India’s Padma Awards

By Sridhar Subramaniam
President of India Hon'bl Ram Nath Kovind presenting the Padma Bhushan to Anand Mahindra

Industrialist Anand Mahindra was conferred the 2020 Padma Bhushan Award for his contribution in the field of Trade and Industry. Anand Mahindra has 8.5 million followers on Twitter. Another Industrialist Harsh Goenka has 1.6 million followers. Both these industrialists are prolific and active on Twitter.

On receiving India’s third-highest civilian honour, the Chairman of the Mahindra Group Anand Mahindra tweeted, “This Govt has made a long-overdue, transformational shift in the texture of the Padma Awards recipients. Now, the focus is largely on individuals making seminal contributions to the improvement of society at grassroots levels. I truly felt undeserving to be amongst their ranks.”

Coming from Anand Mahindra, it is an acknowledgement of the tectonic shift & positive change that has taken place in the way the awardees are being selected. Mahindra is one of the top industrialists of the country, known to be a stickler in matters of propriety, who does not bend rules to get ahead. It speaks of his humility and magnanimity. It is also a telling commentary on the inclusiveness and belated recognition of the true heroes at the “bottom of the pyramid” and acknowledging the seminal contribution of these movers and shakers who have wrought transformation at the grassroots level, where it matters most.

The Modi government dispensed with the erstwhile practice of lobby based grant and instead made the whole process more transparent and inclusive by a nation-wide participative selection process. The aspiration levels of the common man will go up and will now egg common folks to raise the bar and achieve more. They now have a fair chance of getting recognized. A healthy democratic process has been ushered in. It will bring a sea change in the societal outlook, for sure.

By honouring these foot soldiers, the government has restored the dignity of the Padma Awards.

Social media is agog with stories about the phenomenal work these individuals have done and the videos of some of them receiving the awards have gone viral. They have added a splash of colour and vibrancy to the drab and dreary award giving ceremony.

Some of these stalwarts and the magnificent work deserve mention and our adulation. We will be crowning ourselves with glory by their mere mention. May their tribe increase!

In 2019 the 106-year-old Saalumarada Thimakka from Hulikal Village in Karnataka received the Padma Shri. She is also fondly called the Vriksha Matha (mother of trees) in her part of the world. She has planted 8,000 trees in 80 years. She has single handedly planted and nurtured 384 banyan trees lined in a 5 km stretch some 80 kms from Bangalore.

In 2020, Harekala Hajabba from Mangalore received the Padma Shri. He is a grassroots social activist and Orange vendor who saved money from his business to build a school in his village. He had not had the privilege of a formal education, which prompted him to start a school. Today the school has grown and he is popularly called Akshara Santha (letter-saint).

Harekala Hajabba

Tulasi Gowda the ‘barefoot environmentalist’ was conferred the Padma Shri award for her contribution to the protection of the environment. The 72-year-old tribal woman from Karnataka belongs to the Halakki indigenous tribe in Karnataka. Gowda grew up in a poor family and did not receive any formal education, and yet, she is known as the ‘Encyclopedia of the Forest’. This is because of her vast knowledge of diverse species of plants and herbs. Since the age of 12, she has planted and nurtured thousands of trees.

Ayodhya’s Octagenarian Sharif Chacha worked as a bicycle mechanic. He has performed the last rites of 25,000 unclaimed bodies in the last several decades. He received a Padma Shri for the yeoman service he has rendered. In Indic parlance this kind of service can be called Nishkamya Karma.

Sharif Chacha

One of the most viral videos in social media was that of Manjamma Jogati, the transgender folk artist. Manjamma Jogati performed a unique gesture to greet the President at the award event. Apparently it was done to ward off evil eyes cast on the President as was her custom and tradition.

Manjamma Jogati

India has scripted history in this year of the Amrit Mahotsav or the 75th Year of Indian Independence by honouring its Ordinary Citizens who have done or have been doing Extraordinary deeds!

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