Padma Shri Award 2020: DSSG Salutes the Unsung Heroes

‘Langar Baba, ‘Akshara Santa’, ‘Seed Mother’, ‘Mother of Orphans’ became household names after they were awarded the Padma Shri 2020 — the fourth highest civilian award in India. The spotlight was on the unsung heroes who contributed towards the betterment of the nation and its people. Unencumbered by their situations, these everyday heroes showed us the true meaning of being selfless. The list includes the names of Jagdish Lal Ahuja, Tulsi Gowda, Nanda Prusty, Padma Bandopadhyay, and Usha Chaumar, among others.

The government said Acharya MK Kunjol is being awarded for ensuring justice for Dalits and fighting against the police atrocities. Hailing from Kerala, he is known to be an instrumental figure in popularising the ideas and works of BR Ambedkar and Ayyankali among the masses.

Harekala Hajjaba is an orange vendor from Harekala village in Karnataka. He saved up money from selling oranges and started a primary school to educate the children in his village in Mangaluru.

Another Padma Shri awardee, eighty-five-year-old Jagdish Lal Ahuja, who has been suffering from stomach cancer, has spent the last 19 years of his life organising langars for 500-plus poor patients outside premier health institutes.

Another recipient is Kushal Konwar Sarma, a veterinarian in Guwahati, who has devoted his life to the conservation of Asian elephants. Interestingly, he has not taken a single weekend off in the last 30 years. He is acclaimed for treating more than 700 elephants every year. Kushal has pioneered research in elephant anesthetic, especially using a remote tranquilising injection technique.

The list also includes Krishnammal Jagannathan, a social reformer who used Satyagraha to redistribute land to landless poor people in Tamil Nadu. She worked towards bringing social equality in the society. She is also the founder of the Land for Tillers’ Freedom (LAFTI) movement.

A Santhal social worker from Maldah, Kamali Soren, won the prestigious Padma Shri award for her work towards upliftment of the tribals for nearly three decades. Her dedication and selfless service has earned her the title of ‘Guru Maa.’

102-year-old Nanda Prusty, also known as ‘Nanda sir’, received the Padma Shri for his contribution in the field of literature and education. He provided free education to children and adults at Jajpur and Odisha for decades. Having only been able to study till Class 7 owing to his family’s financial condition, he has been teaching children since Independence with the goal of eradicating illiteracy in his village.

Known for a number of firsts, setting examples for women across the world, Dr Padmavathy Bandopadhyay is the first woman in the history of Indian Air Force to be promoted to the rank of Air Marshal. A graduate of Armed Force Medical college in Pune, she had the distinction of being the first woman officer to become an aviation medicine specialist. Being the first woman Fellow of the Aerospace Medical Society of India, she was also the first Indian woman to have conducted scientific research at the North Pole.

Popularly known as the ‘Beej Mata’, Rahibai Soma Popere is a Mahadeo Koli tribal farmer from Komblne village in the Akole tribal block in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district. She was unable to attend school owing to poverty, so she began working in agricultural labour and cow rearing to support her family when she was ten years old. Agriculture was the family’s sole source of income. Through her experiences, she learnt that preserving agro-biodiversity and wild food resources is important to achieve the goal of national security. She began using her knowledge to prepare indigenous seeds and started delivering them to others.

A house-hoarding perennial kitchen garden and water harvesting structures are also two of her initiatives. Around 3500 farmers have been trained by her.

At 105 years old, there is nothing that Rangammal Alias Pappmmal, a resident of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, does not do by herself! That includes working on her 2.5-acre organic farm. She advocates the use of organic fertilisers like cow dung and plant residues for agricultural purposes.

Another inspirational woman is Sindhutai Sapkal, who is an Indian social worker and social activist known particularly for her work of raising orphan children. Famously called ‘Mother Teresa of Maharashtra’ or ‘Mai’ in Marathi, she has raised 1050 orphan children and has a grand family of 207 son-in-laws and 36 daughter-in-laws. In her 45 years of relentless service, she has received more than 750 awards.

Known as the man behind dry-land agroforestry, propagator of agro-biodiversity conservation and rainwater harvesting, Sundaram Verma hails from Rajasthan. He studied dry-land farming through Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK). The technique he developed can be used to grow all kinds of trees with just one litre of water. So far, Sundaram has planted over 50,000 trees!

Another recipient is Trinity Saioo, also known as ‘Turmeric Trinity’, who has worked extensively with the Lakadong variety of turmeric. She has been assisting women and teaching them to learn methods of organic farming. She is currently working with over 900 farmers and changing the lives of thousands in the process.

Among the other ‘Unsung Heroes’ is Tulasi Gowda, also known as the ‘Encyclopaedia of Forest’ due to her vast knowledge of diverse species of plants and herbs, despite not having any formal education.

Despite growing up in poverty in a backward community, she has planted and nurtured thousands of trees over the past 60 years. Even at the age of 72, she continues to carry forward the message of environment protection.

Hailing from the state of Rajasthan, Usha Chaumar’s story is truly motivating! Born in a Dalit family, she worked as a manual scavenger for several decades. The horrific job not just made her an ‘untouchable’ but severely affected her life as well. At the age of 24, she met the founder of Sulabh International, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, and under his guidance, she joined an NGO Nai Disha that worked for the alternate sustainable lifestyle for manual scavengers. Currently, Usha is the president of Sulabh International.

India is truly changing and acknowledging the contributions of real heroes. These and many more such champions deserve all the recognition. We truly believe that their extraordinary lives and the desire to transform the nation will inspire generations to come.

You have made us all proud!

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