NEW DELHI: In a first, the President has approved conferment of Padma awards to 21 “unsung” people on the eve of the Republic Day this year including 76-year-old Meenaakshi Amma from Kerala, who began her martial art classes at the age of seven and is the oldest Kalaripayattu exponent.
Amma also known as the “Granny with a sword” and Meenakshi Gurukkal (from Kerala) has been practising and teaching Kalaripayattu for over 68 years and has been selected for Padma Shri. Kalaripayattu originated from south-west Kerala and is believed to be the root of Chinese martial arts.
Another person chosen for Padma Shri in the category include Chintakindi Mallesham from Telangana for inventing Laxmi ASU machine to reduce the time and menial labour of four hours required to weave Pochampalli silk sarees to just 1.5 hours.
His invention impacted 60 per cent of looms engaged in weaving Pochampalli silk sarees. A school dropout, 44-year-old Mallesham had created the machine to relieve his mother's pain. He continuously scaled up the machine first made in 1999 that was mounted on a wooden frame, next year the same was changed to steel and further many electronic components have been added thus increasing functionality and flexibility of design. He sold machines in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
Others in the unsung category list for Padma Shri include 91-year old gynaecologist Bhakti Yadav,popularly known as "Doctor Dadi" from Indore who has been treating patients for the last 68 years for free and captain of Indian cricket team of blind Shekhar Naik among others.
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 this year.
Dr Yadav is the first woman from Indore to hold an MBBS degree and helped deliver thousands of babies for free.
Naik, 30, 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 a drunk bus driver while going to school. His father had abandoned the family and he was raised by his mother who used to work as labourer carrying bricks.
Karmakar, the 23-year-old "Produnova Princess" from Tripura, practised on an apparatus made from second-hand parts of a discarded scooter. She is only the fifth woman in the gymnastic history to land a Produnova vault. Her performance was the best ever by an Indian gymnast in Olympics history.
Karnartka's Sukri Bommagowda, known as "Nightingale of Halakki", has been named for Padma Shri for performing tribal folk music for 58 years. Bommagowda is also a social activist who fought against the sale of liquor in the area and also sang for saving the local culture.
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.
Eli Ahmad, 81, from Assam has been selected for Padma Shri for running the only magazine for women in the Northeast since 1970. She is also credited for establishing the first film institute in Northeast region.
Daripalli Ramaiah, 68, commonly known 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 will be honoured 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.
Ganatra, 59, 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 for his pioneering works in bringing medical relief to accident victims on national highways.
Das, 51, who hails from Gujarat 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", is credited with building over 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 in the unsung category also includes 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. The SSB has also partnered with the Maiti Nepal, an organisation founded by her, for checking trafficking along Indo-Nepal border.
Karimul Haque (52), a tea garden worker popularly known as "Ambulance Dada", hails from West Bengal's Jalpaiguri district, will also be honoured with Padma Shri for converting his bike into an ambulance offering a 24x7 service. Haque innovated the bike ambulance after he could not save his mother due to the lack of such an emergency vehicle.
Yet 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. Singh is known by many names for his work including "Rastewale Baba" (one who makes path), "Sadakanwale Baba" (one who lays roads) and "Eco Baba"(one who works for environment).
Genabhai Dargabhai Patel, 52, from Gujarat 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. He is also known as "Anar Dada" and has been selected for Padma Shri.
Anant Agarwal who left his established job in MIT to establish edX, an online platform for bringing courses from MIT and Harvard at no cost also figures in the list of the unsung heroes shortlisted for the Padma Shri award.