Green warrior, tireless caregiver: A look at the unsung Padma awardee heroes
The government’s list of the Padma awards this year recognised several unglorified heroes who have been rendering selfless service to society at the grass-roots level. Hindustan Times profiles a few of them who are doing their bit for country.
THE WATER WARRIOR
Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal, environmental activist
He will gain a permanent place in history if not for anything but for infusing life into Kali Bein, a 160-km rivulet where Guru Nanak is believed to have earned enlightenment at the end of the 15th century. But that mammoth 16-year long exercise is not Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal’s only achievement. He has also developed a cost-effective underground sewerage system that turns sewage into clean water fit for irrigation. “The honour gives a great feeling. It’s the result of collective and dedicated work of my followers and local people for 16 years,” Seechewal told HT. Many administrators are now adopting his model . Seechewal, 55, is now appealing to the people to vote for candidates who consider environmental reforms an election issue.
A FIRE TO DOUSE FIRES
Bipin Ganatra, firefighter
Bipin Ganatra, 59, is a cardiac patient but ignores medical advice to rush anywhere in Kolkata to join fire brigade personnel to douse any blaze that breaks out at any hour of the day or night. He stays awake till 2:30-3:00 AM just to scan local TV news channels for any fire. Over the past four decades, bespectacled frail Ganatra has fought more than 100 fires along with fire brigade personnel and saved several lives. His relentless spirit earned him a Padma Shri this year. “The honour has increased my responsibility. More than my own satisfaction, I have to now ensure that a Padma Shri never gets tarnished due to lack of efforts on my part,” he says.
THE MAN WITH A GREEN THUMB
Daripalli Ramaiah, environment activist
For the past four decades, Daripalli Ramaiah have been starting his day on a bicycle carrying saplings and seeds from his humble home in Reddipalle village in eastern Telangana. Wherever he found a barren patch, he dismounted and planted saplings and sowed seeds. This routine has not only led him to an astounding count of plantations – well over 10 million – that comes to one tree every third resident of the Telangana state, but also earned him a Padma Shri. “Planting saplings is not just a hobby for me, but a passion. My objective is to see that every sapling that I plant should survive. Even if one plant wilts and dies, I feel as if I have lost my life,” says 70-year-old Ramaiah.
GRAND DAME IN A MAN’S WORLD
Meenakshi Gurukkal, Kalaripayattu performer/artiste
Hand Meenakshi Gurukkal a sword and her 74-year-old frame changes in a flash. Her movements then can put even a teenager to challenge. For about six decades, she has not only left her stamp in the male bastion of Kalaripayattu, but also trained hundreds of girl students in the martial art. “With the country bestowing this honour on me, I feel humbled and it makes me more responsible. I will try to attract more youngsters to the art,” she said on getting the Padma Shri. In an age when atrocities against women are on the rise, the grand dame regards her art as a source of fitness, confidence and defence techniques.
THE TIRELESS CAREGIVER
Dr Bhakti Yadav, gynaecologist
She was the first female student to pass out as a doctor in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Predictably, a lucrative career was waiting for Dr Bhakti Yadav who was trained as a gynaecologist. But armed with her husband’s support, she spurned a job at a government hospital in the late forties, and plunged headlong into serving the poor, with little, or no consultation fee at all. Soon words about her evangelical zeal and service with a smile spread to many districts of the state. She continued her mission for more than six decades till a fall fractured a femur bone and confined her to bed. “I am very happy at the honour (Padma Shri). I am glad that the spirit of selfless service has been honoured by the country,” Yadav, 90, told HT.
VISION BEYOND SIGHT
Shekhar Naik, visually impaired cricketer
Shekhar Naik can see only in one eye and that too till a distance of about three metres. But the 30-year old captain of the Indian cricket team for the visually challenged has smashed at least 32 centuries in first class and international cricket. He has also captained the country in two world cups in 2012 and 2014. The Padma Shri for this swashbuckling youth could not have come at a more opportune moment as he is again leading the country in T-20 world cup scheduled to begin in Delhi on Monday.