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Inspiring! The 2020 Padma Shri Awardees

By Rediff News Bureau
November 11, 2021 06:50 IST
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Unassuming HEROES.

These are some of the words that come to mind as you spot certain names in the 2020 Padma Shri list.

A glow warms your heart as you read of how they have transformed lives. And not because they expected anything in return. Definitely not the Padma Shri.


Please click on the images for a better look at the Awardees.

IMAGE: Night soil. These two innocuous words hide a disgusting reality.
In case you don't know what they mean, they are a euphemism for Human Shit. Human Poop. Human Dung. Human Excreta that is manually scavenged by hundreds of thousands of other human beings because that is the role society has thrust upon them since centuries.
That is what Usha Chaumar was forced to do from the age of seven. Married off at the tender age of 10, the 43-year-old continued doing it until 2003, when she met the founder of Sulabh International, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak.
As a scavenger, she didn't just earn a miserly Rs 200-300 with which she could not even keep body and soul together. She also earned the stigma of being untouchable, of being shunned by society for a doing a job that was forced on thousands of people like her by the same society.
Dr Pathak changed the course of Chaumar's life, and the lives of thousands of women like her.
He showed them that scavenging was not their fate and set up an NGO in Alwar, Rajasthan, where she lived, so that they could be vocationally trained.
The women were taught how to make papad, noodles, clothes and bags and how to run beauty parlours.
Chaumar, who attended school briefly as a child before she was forced to leave because of discrimination, learnt to read and write as well.
As she grew in Sulabh, she travelled to the US, Europe and Africa, where she proudly shared her story.
Today, she is the president of the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation. The Padma Shri for Social work is the latest feather in her shining tiara.
Information: Kind courtesy Sulabh International


IMAGE: Professor Ramjee Singh was born in 1927, in an India that was fighting for Independence.
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, he participated in the freedom struggle.
Twenty-nine years later, when the draconian Emergency was imposed on India in 1975, Singh protested and was imprisoned for 21 months.
Over the years, he has raised his voice and used his influence to highlight various social causes.
Significant among these is a case he filed in the Supreme Court against the horrific blinding of undertrial prisoners in Bhagalpur, Bihar. He also filed a public interest litigation to protect the rights of the landless.
As the president of the Indian Society of Gandhian Studies -- a post he still holds -- he has organised around 70 youth peace camps and helped set up departments of Gandhian studies and peace research across the country.
A former member of Parliament, the 94-year-old's Padma Shri honours him for his social work and his role as an eminent Gandhian thinker.
Information: Kind courtesy Wikipedia, Legitquest


IMAGE: All his life, 83-year-old Acharya M K Kunhjol has fought for equality.
A mesmerising orator, he has been raising his voice for the development of the Dalit community and against the atrocities committed against them, especially by the police.
He has founded the Harijan Samajam Sri Budha Charitable Trust, co-founded the Kerala State Harijan Samajam and is a patron of the Federation of SC and ST and the Hindu Aikya Vedi.
As a family, they still live in a dilapidated home in Kerala and struggle to make ends meet.
Information: Kind courtesy The Hindu, Saradhi/Twitter


IMAGE: When the devastatingly lethal methyl isocayante gas began silently leaking from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal on a chilly December night in 1984, Abdul Jabbar Khan was fast asleep. As the acrid, chilli-like odour of the gas forced his eyes open, Khan did not realise he was waking into a living, never-ending nightmare.
After rushing his mother to what he thought was a safe place, 40 kilometres away, he returned home -- his colony was located a mere 1.5 kilometres from the killer plant -- to help his neighbours.
His mother and brother did not survive that terrible night. Khan developed serious lung ailments and lost about 50 per cent of his vision.
The tragedy that had enveloped his city sparked in Khan the determination to fight; he filed court cases demanding compensation for the families of the victims and those who had survived but, like him, were battling health ailments caused by the gas.
In 1987, two years before the compensation -- which the victims termed inadequate -- came through, he set up the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sanghtan, which fought for compensation, medical rehabilitation and prosecution of Union Carbide on behalf of the widows of the tragedy.
His Swabhiman Kendra offered vocational training to women survivors so that they could pick up the threads of their shattered lives.
Khan succumbed to his ailments in 2019; till the end, he fought to improve the lot of the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.
His Padma Shri was received by his wife, Saira Banu.
Information: Kind courtesy Wikipedia, News18


IMAGE: In 1972, the village of Hiware Bazar was dying. Located in Maharashtra's semi-arid Ahmednagar district, it had seemingly lost the battle against drought; there was a mass exodus as the villagers left their homes in a desperate search for livelihood.
For 17 years, it looked like there no hope.
Until, in 1989, Hiware Bazar's only post-graduate, Popatrao Baguji Pawar decided to tackle the problem and contested the panchayat elections.
As sarpanch, he began by shutting down the illicit liquor shops in his village. A ban on consuming tobacco and liquor followed.
Using five-year plans, inspired by the changes in Kisan Baburao 'Anna 'Hazare's Ralegaon Siddhi village, he got bank loans for farmers, started rainwater harvesting and reforestation of the denuded hills and introduced water conservation and water harvesting.
As the water situation improved, many of the villagers returned. Farming once again became the main source of income, but the strategy changed. Water intensive crops were replaced with fruits, vegetables, pulses and flowers.
By 2010, the average income in Hiware Bazar -- which now boasts of many millionaires -- had increased twentyfold.
Other villagers now visit Hiware Bazar to learn how they can replicate its success.
Honouring his contribution to making his village prosperous, President Kovind presented the Padma Shri for Social Work to Popatrao Bhaguji Pawar.
Information: Kind courtesy DownToEarth, Culture Trip, Wikipedia


Photographs curated by Manisha Kotian/
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/



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