Nonogenarian Bhakti Yadav, popularly known as “Doctor Dadi” from Indore, and captain of Indian cricket team of blind Shekhar Naik are among the unsung heroes who were named for Padma Shri. Dipa Karmakar, who finished fourth in artistic gymnastics at Rio Olympics last year, and gold medallist at Rio Paralympics Mariyappan Thangavelu also figured in the list of Padma Shri awardees. The focus of this year’s Padma awards, according to the officials in the Home Ministry, was on recognising talent of unknown and unsung heroes of the country. Yadav, 91, is the first woman from Indore to hold an MBBS degree. She has been treating patients free of cost for the past 68 years and has helped deliver thousands of babies.
Thirty-year-old Naik had led the India’s cricket team of blind to victory in the first T20 World Cup in 2012 and ODI World Cup in 2014. He comes from a poor background and faced extreme hardship as he lost his parents at the age of 12. Thangavelu, who won gold in Rio 2016, is a born fighter. He had suffered permanent disability in the right leg when he was run over by drunk bus driver. His father had abandoned the family and he was raised by his mother who used to work as a labourer. Karmakar, the 23-year-old “Produnova Princess” from Tripura, practised on an apparatus made from second-hand parts of a discarded cooter. She is only the fifth woman in the gymnastic history to land a Produnova vault.
Karnartka’s Sukri Bommagowda, known as “Nightingale of Halakki”, has been named for Padma Shri for performing tribal folk music for 58 years. School dropout Jitendra Haripal, popular as “Rangabati ki Awaz”, has been selected for Padma Shri for his contribution to Odhisa’s most popular recorded song “Rangabati” and being a top exponent of Kosli-Sambalpuri music.
Ela Ahmad, 81, from Assam has been selected for Padma Shri for running the only magazine for women in the northeast since 1970.
“Granny with a sword”, 76-year-old Meenaakshi Amma from Kerala, who began her martial art classes at the age of seven, has also been chosen for Padma Shri. She is the country’s oldest woman Kalaripayattu exponent and has been practising and teaching martial arts for more than 68 years.
Kalaripayattu originated from south-west Kerala and is believed to be the root of Chinese martial arts. Another person chosen for Padma Shri, Chintakindi Mallesham from Telangana, invented Laxmi ASU machine to reduce the time and menial labour required to weave Pochampalli silk sarees. His invention impacted 60 per cent of looms engaged in weaving Pochampalli. A school dropout, 44-year-old Mallesham had created the machine to relieve his mother’s pain.
Daripalli Ramaiah, 68, knows as Chetla Ramaiah or “The Tree Man” from Telangana has also been selected for Padma Shri. Ramaiah is a common man who has dedicated his life to make India green by planting over one crore trees. He takes out seeds from his pocket and plants them wherever he sees a barren spot. Volunteer fire fighter Bipin Ganatra from West Bengal has will be decorated with Padma Shri. He is the only person apart from fire brigade officials who has been to almost every fire accident site in Kolkata in the last 40 years.
The 59-year-old decided to devote his life to helping people caught in fire after losing his brother to an inferno. Dr Suniti Solomon, who diagnosed the first AIDS case in India in 1985, has figured in the Padma Shri list posthumously. “Highway Messiah” Dr Subroto Das has also been named for Padma Shri. He is one of the pioneers in bringing medical relief to accident victims on national highways. Das, 51, hails from Gujarat. He started the Lifeline Foundation after he met with an accident. Today, he provides emergency medical services on the highway network spanning 4,000 kilometres in Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
Girish Bharadwaj, 66-year-old social worker from Karnataka, also known as “Sethu (bridge) Bandhu”, has to his credit building of more than 100 low-cost and eco-friendly suspension bridges connecting remote villages across India. He has also been selected for Padma Shri.
The Padma Shri award list has Anuradha Koirala, a 67-year Nepalese woman, who has been instrumental in rescuing and rehabilitating 12,000 sex trafficking victims and prevented 45,000 from being trafficked.
Karimul Haque (52), a tea garden worker affectionately called “Ambulance Dada”, hails from West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri, will be decorated with the award for converting his bike into an ambulance offering a 24×7 service.
He innovated the bike ambulance after he could not save his mother due to the lack of such an emergency vehicle. Another person in the Padma Shri list is “Swacchhta Doot” from Pune’s Dehu village, Dr Mapuskar (88), who dedicated his life to make his village open defecation free beginning as early as in the 1960s. Balbir Singh Seechewal, 51, from Punjab will be honoured with the award for rendering social service and resurrecting 160-km-long river Kali Bein in the state by mobilising local youths and volunteers in the mission.
He goes by many names like “Rastewale Baba” (one who makes path), “Sadakanwale Baba” (one who lays roads) and “Eco Baba” (one who works for environment).
Gujarat’s Genabhai Dargabhai Patel (52) is a “divyang” farmer and has taken huge efforts to make his drought-hit village in Banaskantha district become the largest producer of pomegranate in the country. Also known as “Anar Dada”, he will be conferred Padma Shri.