Since the Narendra Modi led NDA took charge, a prominent feature of the prestigious Padma awards has been the conferment upon grassroots social workers and unsung heroes who have for years been selflessly working towards the betterment of the society and the underprivileged.
Last year, some of the awardees included, Dr Smita Kolhe and Dr Ravindra Kolhe - who have been treating tribals in Naxal infested districts for a partly fee of Rs 2, tribal agriculture activist Kamala Pujhari - who preserved hundreds of endangered seed and Saalumarada Thimmakka - who spend 66 years planting and protecting thousands of trees.
This year is no different and here are 10 inspired selections for this year’s Padma awards, who despite being common citizens or professionals have made notable contributions in the field of social work.
Dr Ravi Kannan
Dr Ravi Kannan a renowned oncologist runs the Cachar cancer hospital in Assam’s Barak Valley and was awarded the Padma Shri for treating over 70,000 cancer patients free of cost in the region.
Dr Kannan had shifted to Assam in 2007 from Chennai after noting the poor treatment facilities in the region. He has been known for providing the best medical treatment to his patients despite their socio-economic status. His initiatives have also included home visits and satellite clinics to aid his poor patients.
As per an anecdote shared by his cousin, Dr Kannan refused to join private hospitals despite getting lucrative offers and became the number two doctor at the Adyar Cancer Centre and was known to work for 15 to 18 hours per day.
While working at the Adyar centre he noticed that a large number of his patients were from the north east and found it difficult to pay for the travel and lodging costs. He thus decided to relocate there with his family, and carry out his service on a partly salary after setting up a clinic from scratch.
Eighty-five year old Padma Shri awardee Jagdish Lal Ahuja, popularly known as Langar Baba has been organising langar for over 2,500 poor patients daily for over two decades outside the PGIMER and GMCH hospitals in Chandigarh.
The patients are provided a daily free langar lunch consisting of dal, rice, roti, halwa and banana. They are also provided snacks and child patients get toffees and balloons.
A self made billionaire, Ahuja migrated from Pakistan penniless at the age of 12 and survived doing odd jobs. He slowly started his business by selling candles, bananas in buses, worked hard to earn his wealth.
The daily langar though has taken a lot of commitment on Ahuja’s part and he has been selling farmlands, showrooms and residential plots to finance it.
Fondly known as Chacha Sharif, the Padma Shri awardee has over the years cremated over 25,000 unclaimed bodies irrespective of their religion in Uttar Pradesh.
Hailing from Faizabad, Sharif lost his son 27 years ago and only came to know about his demise a month after his death. He then decided to take it upon himself to give a respectable final burial for those individuals whose bodies were never claimed by any kin.
Despite being a humble bicycle mechanic, Sharif has continued his service to perform the last rites in accordance with the deceased’s religion.
Seventy-two year old tribal woman from Karnataka, Tulsi Gowda has been conferred the Padma Shri award after planting and nursing thousands of trees for the last 60 years. Known to be an encyclopedia of forests, Gowda despite not receiving any formal education has unmatched knowledge of plants and herbs in the region.
A 53-year-old former manual scavenger from Rajasthan, Chaumar rose to become the President of Sulabh International social service organisation and has been known for her fight for better sanitation and an end to manual scavenging.
“No one should do the work of manual scavenging, because it leads to untouchability and those who do this job are looked down by society”, Padma Shri awardee Charmar was quoted as saying.
Ninety-four year old Padma Bhushan awardee Krishnammal Jagannathan, from Thanjavur leads the NGO Land for Tillers' Freedom (LAFTI) which works for the upliftment of scheduled caste women and their families.
She has worked extensively in areas like Kilvenmani following the 1968 massacre when 44 people belonging to the SC community were burnt by henchmen. She has also helped over 14,000 landless labourers acquire land and is currently helping the cyclone Gaja victims reclaim their land.
Padma Shri winner from Mangalore, Hajabba a orange seller founded a school in his village after collecting funds from the government and the general public and also added all his personal savings of Rs 5,000.
One day a foreigner asked him a price of his oranges but he failed to reply as he did not know English. Then onward he resolved to help start a primary school so that the children in the area are able to learn the language and get proper education.
The school was initially started at a madrasa in 1999 and was later turned into a government school till class 10. After winning a cash prize of Rs 5 lakh for his efforts he used the cash to expand the school campus.
Javed Ahmad Tak
Fourty-six year old Padma Shri awardee Javed Ahmed Tak was left paralysed in 1997 after receiving a spinal injuring during a terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir. Since then he has been working with specially abled children to help integrate them in the society.
He has established a welfare organisation and a school for specially abled kids which provides them free education and aid. He has also implemented child-friendly spaces in over 40 villages in Anantnag and Pulwama.
Padma Shri awardee Dr Arunoday Mondal known as Sunderban Ke Sujan has been tirelessly providing medical aid to the needy in Bengal’s Sunderban region for the last 20 years. He travels six hours every weekend to remote Sunderban villages to treat over 250 patients and arrange medication for them.
He also established a free medical service at his own residence in Chandanpur since the 2000 Bengal floods. Hailing from a poor Dalit family, Dr Mondal worked as a tutor to fund his studies and livelihood before becoming a doctor.
A sarpanch of Hiware Bazar Village in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, Pawar has been instrumental in transforming a drought prone village to a role model in rural development. The village now boasts of no BPL families, zero alcohol consumption and became one of the first open-defecation free villages in 1992.
He has also planted 4.5 lakh trees and built 40,000 trenches around hills to conserve water. His efforts have also helped revive ground water in the drought prone region.