People’s Padma: Awarding Those Who Sought No Reward Is What Has Made The Difference

by Harsha Bhat - Nov 14, 2021 09:13 AM
People’s Padma: Awarding Those Who Sought No Reward Is What Has Made The DifferenceHarekala Hajabba was awarded the Padma Shri this year.
  • They simply did what they thought they ought to, and have gone back to doing the same, with just another award to their name and frame on their wall. In the process, an entire nation has been inspired beyond imagination

From hardly a few people in the country knowing names of all those who would annually be given the highest civilian awards to almost everyone lauding them for who they are, the nation has come a long way in a short and sudden shift in perspective. And that is what has turned the ‘President’s award’ to ‘People Padma’.

People Padma - The coinage has trended on social media the whole of last week when we saw some of our nations’ extraordinarily ordinary men and women being awarded. 'Ordinary', we say, for that’s who these people have chosen to be on other days of their lives; both before and after receiving the country’s highest honour.

And it is this that has fuelled a nation’s imagination and filled their phone memories and social media with images, videos, trivia about the folks who are just that - common folk’. The act of ’warding off evil eye’ by Padmashri Jogati Manjamma, a transgender folk artist, went viral with a few million views in a matter of hours. The wrinkled shoulders of a Halakki tribal ‘grandmother’ like Tulasi Gowda and her bare feet had all eyes set on them in reverential awe. I personally shared an image with the orange vendor turned ‘illiterate’ educationist Hajabba and had my twitter notifications going ballistic.

A look at the who, what and how of the whole award process explains why the awards changed from being just another newspaper listicle that a few intellectuals laud and institutions celebrate to one that every lay Indian takes pride in.

To begin with - How.

One on hand is the whole rebranding of the awards as a bottom-up, real, nomination-based exercise that makes it more participatory. Like say, in the case of Harekala Hajabba, it was an article by Guruvappa Balepuni in the Hosadigantha in Mangaluru, a town that is rarely floored by any paparazzi, that began the journey of the Padma award for Hajabba. Hajabba remembers the journalist's contribution as the one that has helped him realise his dream of a school in his village at a grander scale than what he had conceived originally.

Click on the Padma awards website, and you see what has changed. The drop down banner, invites you to “Nominate your Heroes For #PeoplepaDMA 2022”.

Your Heroes! This is what the ‘Who’ is about. It would not be wrong to say that of the 3,225 Padma Shri awardees, 1281 Padma Bhushan, and 321 Padma Vibhushan recipients, so far, the recent ones, especially the ones we saw receive the awards last week– 2020 and 2021 - have been different. With due respect to the truly deserving ones in the earlier decades, this one marks the beginning of one that’s honouring people who the ‘common man’ would want to see honoured and feel a sense of ‘worth’ and ’connect’ to.

Especially in a nation, whose opium be cinema and cricket, two industries whose awards and rewards are both far, far away from the layman’s aspiration and reach, the recipients of the highest civilian honours make recognition relatable.

Also, the ratio of ‘celebrities’ to ‘common man’ has been reversed. Those belonging to what Shobha De, in a piece about the awards, calls ‘charmed circles of influence and power’, are a minority this award season.

Union home minister Amit Shah called this year’s Padmas the “awards of the common man”. And it truly is, not so much because of the recipients being ‘common people’ but because it is the common man who can relate to the recipients and see them as one among them.

The beneficiaries of this shift in perspective or the ones who will be influenced and inspired by the list are common people. The larger 130 crore people can relate more to a Tsultrim Chonjor and Hajabba than a Kangana Ranaut or a Karan Johar.

And that bring us to the ’What’.

Who is Tulasi Gowda? Who is Hajabba? Who is Manjamma? What changes in their lives with the award? Nothing. None of these will pin that mini-medal unless someone asks them to.

Like Hajabba was more concerned about not being able to sell any more oranges and raising that Rs 1 crore for a PU college. Tulasi Gowda isn't out there screaming ‘dare you’ at random people making a spectacle of her activism.

The innocence of Hajabba as he stopped me from opening the scroll for him almost telling me the case itself is the award and the way his smile burst forth when I opened it to reveal that big sheet of paper with his name and the president‘s seal tells what has changed.

The magic of simplicity and what we in our Indic way of life call ‘nishkaama karma’ (action without expectation). They simply did what they thought they ought to, and have gone back to doing the same, with just another award to their name and frame on their wall. In the process, an entire nation has been inspired beyond imagination.

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