Padma Awards: An ode to unsung heroes
Every year, the President confers India’s highest honours on people who have done something extraordinary or have contributed to their field of work, and made the country proud. Padma Awards are given to civilians for their contributions to the country and are divided in three categories. Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri. (Read more about the highest civilian awards in our other story here LINK to India Awards story )
This year, Padma Shri Awards were conferred to few less recognised names, but these unsung heroes have been working toward the betterment of people for years. Here are a few names…
Jagdish Lal Ahuja, also known as ‘Langar Baba’, is being awarded for “selflessly organising langars for 500 plus poor patients daily for over two decades” at Chandigarh PGI hospital. The 84-year-old also provides patients with other support from financial assistance to blankets and clothes. He is a self-made billionaire who came to India empty-handed during the partition. He sold off properties worth crores to fuel his mission and continues to serve undeterred even by stomach cancer.
Tulasi Gowda is also known as the ‘Encyclopaedia of Forest’ due to her vast knowledge of diverse species of plants and herbs, though she never received any formal education. Despite growing up in poverty amongst the backward community, she has planted and nurtured thousands of trees over the past 60 years. Even at the age of 72, she continues to nurture plants and share her knowledge with the generation, carrying forward the message of environmental protection.
Javed Ahmad Tak, from Anantnag in Kashmir, has been working with specially-abled children for two decades, to integrate them into mainstream life. He provides free education, material aid and motivation to over 100 children of 40 villages in Anantnag and Pulwama. He is wheelchair-ridden since 1997 due to a spinal injury from a bullet hit in a militant attack.
Over the past 15 years, Dr Kushal Konwar Sarma has travelled around 5 lakh kilometres, mostly in the jungles of Assam to treat and tame nearly 10,000 elephants. Widely known in the wildlife circles of India as the “Elephant Doctor”, Sarma is a professor and head of Department of Surgery and Radiology of the College of Veterinary Science in Guwahati.
The ‘Uncle Moosa of Arunachal’, Sathyanarayan Mundayoor (69) is another Padma winner this time. A Malayali who quit his government job as a Revenue Officer in Mumbai in 1979 to move to Lohit in Arunachal Pradesh, he was instrumental in setting up 13 Bamboosa libraries in remote areas with over 10,000 books each and starting home library movement there.
Mohammed Sharif aka ‘Chacha Sharif’, is a “bicycle mechanic who has been performing the last rites of thousands of unclaimed dead bodies for the last 25 years”. He has performed the last rites of more than 25,000 unclaimed bodies in and around Faizabad. He has never differentiated on the basis of religion, he performs last rites in accordance with the person’s religious practices- cremating Hindus and burying Muslims.
A former manual scavenger, Usha Chaumar (53) from Alvar is described as an “embodiment of strong will and empowerment” and one who was helpless herself but became the voice of countless. She is now the president of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation.