EVERY year, the government of India announces the Padma Awards, the nation’s highest civilian honour for distinguished service in public life, social work, music and art, sports and other fields. India’s highest civilian awards are the Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri. In recent years, the awards have gained more prominence thanks to the concept of ‘People’s Padma’ wherein the government calls for the deserving citizens to be nominated by the ordinary people.
In the recently held ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, President Ram Nath Kovind gave away the Padma Awards to the winners at an impressive ceremony attended by dignitaries, including Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and many others. This year’s winners include folk artists, social workers, musicians, sportspersons, people in social service and others.
Here, we profile 10 winners of this year’s Padma Awards who are working for poverty alleviation, upliftment of women and care for the needy through their expertise in various fields.
Baba Balia: The Reformer Guru
The empowerment of widows has been Baba Balia’s lifelong mission. This Odisha-based spiritual guru has been awarded the Padma Shri for his work in the field of widow welfare, environmental protection, poverty alleviation, social welfare, gender equity and others.
Baba Balia’s work is mostly limited to the Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara districts of Odisha. But his fame has reached far and wide. He has also been striving to develop and recognise Odia art, culture, literature, and music.
Dr. Subbanna Ayyappan: The Agri Professor
Dr Ayyappan is the former director-general of India’s premier agriculture institute Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). His efforts to enhance food production and increase farmers’ income has helped many come out of poverty, and this has been achieved through years of research and working in close coordination with the farmers at the grassroots level.
Ayyappan has been awarded the Padma Shri for his efforts. He is currently serving as the Chancellor for the Central Agricultural University in Imphal, Manipur.
Madhuri Barthwal: The Conservator
Madhuri Barthwal was conferred with a Padma Shri for her distinguished work in the field of art and music. Besides being a preserver of folk art and music from the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, she also empowers local women through music by teaching them traditional folk music.
Madhuri is often referred to as the first female Garhwali music teacher. She has played a pivotal role in initiating women into learning folk instruments despite strong resistance. Folk instruments have been the domain of men all these years. Madhuri’s book “Raag Raganiya in Garhwali folk songs” is considered a great book on Indian classical music and Garhwali folk.
Acharya Chandanaji: The Selfless Nun
A recipient of the Padma Shri for social work, Acharya Chandanaji began her work in Bihar by organising free eye camps for people with eye ailments and for those in need of cataract surgeries. Her other interventions included the field of education, poverty alleviation, gender equality and environment.
In her eighties, Acharya Chandanaji has been heading the Veerayatan spiritual organisation for years after joining it in the 1970s. She has been a frontrunner for the Padma Awards for many years now. Chandanaji is also a writer on Jain philosophy.
Om Prakash ‘Gandhi’: The Empowerer
Popularly called ‘Gandhi’ for his tireless work, single-minded determination and simple living, Om Prakash from Yamunanagar district in Haryana, has been awarded the Padma Shri award recognising his efforts for improving education, women empowerment and fight against poverty.
In 1984, Om Prakash formed Kanya Vidhya Pracharni Sabha and in the following year, he established Kanya Gurukul in Devdhar village of Yamunanagar district. Over the last few decades, thousands of girls from the district have made a name for themselves thanks to this one man’s crusade for girls’ education. In fact, Om Prakash was so involved in the cause of uplifting girls and women that he vowed not to marry and dedicate himself to the cause.
KV Rabiya: Giving Wings to Dreams
Polio at an early age meant that KV Rabiya had to be confined to a wheelchair from the age of 14, but she was determined to succeed in life and also work for the welfare and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities. She became the face of Kerala’s literacy campaign in the 1990s and there has been no looking back. Rabiya is credited with encouraging the elderly and the disabled to become literate. When Kerala became fully literate in the 90s, the state chose Malappuram, Rabiya’s home district, as the place for the grand declaration.
Rabiya started an NGO, Chalanam (Movement), through which she has helped many disabled people to get an education, employment and other forms of support. ‘Chalanam’ also runs vocational training programmes, libraries and a school for the mentally challenged. Her autobiography is called named ‘Swapnangalkku Chirakukalund’ [Dreams have Wings].
Swami Sivananda: Yoga Guru with a Golden Heart
Born towards the end of the 19th century in Sylhet district (Bangladesh) of undivided India, Swami Sivananda could be the oldest person alive. He credits his long life to a disciplined life and yoga. Swami Sivananda has been serving people suffering from leprosy for over 50 years.
Sivananda played an important role in propagating the importance of Covid vaccination among his countless followers. According to the government release, he arranges items like food, fruits, clothes, blankets, cooking utensils for those affected by leprosy. He also organises medical treatment and rehabilitation for leprosy survivors. He teaches yoga in various parts of the country to this day. After the Padma Awards ceremony, Sivananda became a social media sensation as the video of him greeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the latter’s gesture went viral.
Kali Pada Saren: The Inspirer
Born into a Santhal tribal family, Kali Pada Saren realised that education was the only way to get out of poverty early in life. He went on to become a literary figure and a dramatist under the name Kherwal Saren.
Through his drama club, he has been awarded the Padma Shri for playing a pioneering role in fighting illiteracy and prejudices of various kinds in the Santhal community. He runs several NGOs that work for the upliftment of society, and his literary works are part of college and school syllabi.
Prem Singh: The Rehabilitator
A retired audit officer from the Indian Accounts and Audit Department, Prem Singh has been fighting for the cause of the lepers for almost three decades now. He is the founder of Leprosy Welfare Mission, Chandigarh, and Leprosy Elimination Society, Mohali. Both NGOs are engaged in the welfare of leprosy patients.
According to Singh, through his social service, he has rehabilitated over 1,000 patients and cured many more. A selfless man, Singh funded the NGOs mostly from his pocket and even sold his house to build a shelter for leprosy patients. Over the years, Singh has won several awards. This is for the first time that he has figured in the Padma Awards list.
Sosamma Iype: Professor of Cows
Vechur cow is an indigenous cattle variety of Kerala known for its small size. It was long favoured by farmers for its qualities such as very low feed, resistance to diseases, and adaptability to local temperatures. But it was on the verge of extinction when Sosamma Iype, a professor at the Kerala Agricultural University, involved herself in rehabilitation and conservation of the Vechur cow.
Thanks to her efforts, the cow is now reared in large numbers by the local community resulting in the upliftment of farmers thanks to nutritional security and supplemental agricultural activities. Sosamma has inspired many across the country to redouble their efforts to protect and preserve indigenous cow breeds.
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Kumara has been a professional journalist for over 15 years with stints in The Telegraph and Reader’s Digest. He grew up hating maths and physics. He is a post-graduate in history. Kumara believes that cricket and Seinfeld have answers to most questions that life throws at you.