Country’s unsung heroes share Padma honors with celebrities this year

New Delhi: In a much-pruned Padma Awards list announced this year, the government awarded the Padma Vibhushan to political leaders cutting across affiliations – including BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, ex-chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Sunderlal Patwa and former Lok Sabha Speaker and Meghalaya chief minister PA Sangma.

The Padma Vibhushan is the country’s second highest civilian honor. Sunderlal Patwa and Sangma were given the honor posthumously.

The other big names on the 2017 Padma list are Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli, hockey captain PR Sreejesh, Olympic bronze medalist Sakshi Malik, gymnast Dipa Karmakar who put up a spirited performance at Rio Olympics, playback singers KJ Yesudas, Kailash Kher and Anuradha Paudwal, mohan veena player and Grammy Awards winner Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, spiritual leaders Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and Ratna Sundar Maharaj, yoga exponent Swami Niranjana Nanda Saraswati and political satirist Cho Ramaswamy (posthumous).

Significantly, the list of 89 awardees — which include 7 Padma Vibhushan, 7 Padma Bhushan and 75 Padma Shri — features many unsung heroes who’ve been honored for working tirelessly for the public good, and for promoting traditional crafts without caring to be in the limelight.

The list is not only shorter this time (earlier versions featured more than 120 beneficiaries) but takes care to strike the right balance between honoring celebrated achievers and recognizing to the silent and selfless workers at the grassroots level.

The 2017 list doesn’t feature a single Bollywood star. The only two actors honored with the Padma Shri are Sadhu Meher from Odisha – who acted in the 1974 Hindi film ‘Ankur – and Bharathi Vishnuvardhan from Karnataka. There are two former bureaucrats in the list: ex-law secretary TK Vishwanathan and ex-foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, who also happens to be Congress leader Kapil Sibal’s brother.

Those awarded in fields of literature include Delhi based Hindi writer Narendra Kohli, Assamese author Eli Ahmed, Akkitham from Kerala and Kashmi Nath Pandit from Jammu amd Kashmir. The journalists among the awardees include Bhawana Somaaya, Vishnu Pandya and NRI H R Shah.

The Padma selection committee has tried to maintain a regional balance, ensuring that the awards are equitably distributed across states this year, an officer said. There is a significant drop in the number of Delhi-based awardees.

Among the Padma awardees are 15 ordinary people known to have made a difference with their rare talent, innovation and contribution to the cause of nation-building.

For instance, India’s oldest Kalaripayattu exponent Meenakshi Amma was conferred the Padma Vibhushan, for practising the ancient art form said to be at the root of Chinese martial arts. Chintakindi Mallesham, a school drop-out who invented the Laxmi ASU machine, has got the Padma Shri in the category ‘science and engineering’. The machine significantly reduces the time and labor required to weave Pochampalli silk sarees.

The list of unsung heroes also features Daripalli Ramaiah, who has planted over 1 crore trees and is nicknamed ‘Tree Man,’ a Kolkata fire-fighting volunteer who decided to devote his life to rescuing people from fires after losing his brother to one, and Dr Subroto Das, who set up the Lifeline Foundation in Gujarat to help road accident victims after realizing the poor state of emergency services during his own accident.

There’s also a 91-year-old gynecologist who has been treating patients for free for 68 years and has delivered thousands of babies, an engineer – Girish Bharadwaj – who has built over 100 suspension bridges, a tea garden worker – Karimul Haque – who converted his bike into a free 24×7 ambulance, Swachch Bharat pioneer Dr Mapuskar, Genabhai Dargabhai Patel, a physically challenged farmer who transformed the drought-prone Banaskantha into India’s largest pomegranate producer, and Shekhar Naik, the captain of the Indian visually-challenged cricket team who led it to victory in the T-20 World Cup 2012 and ODI World Cup 2014.

These heroes were honored in the absence of any recommendations and purely on the basis of research.

The foreigners in the list include sitar player Imrat Khan, author Anant Agarwal, journalist H R Shah (all from US) and women’s rights activist Anuradha Koirala (Nepal) who works to rescue sex trafficking victims.

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