Cry of foul play in Padma Awards unjust, shows profiles of awardees in Maharashtra

Mumbai, (VSKNS): Though there has been an outcry in a section of media regarding alleged foul play in Padma Awards, a cursory look at the profiles of the awardees from Maharashtra shows that the allegations are completely baseless and unjust.

Of the total 119 Padma awards announced by President Ram Nath Kovind on the eve of Republic Day, Maharashtra got Six. It consists one Padma Bhushan and five Padma Shri awards. While the Padma Bhushan went to Rajnikant Devidas Shroff, the founder of leading chemical company United Phosphorus Limited, the five Padma Shri awardees are – Parshuram Gangavane, a puppeteer who preserved Chitrakathi folk art; author and educationist Namdeo Kamble, Jaswantiben Popat, one of the founders of Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad – a women’s cooperative involved in manufacturing fast-moving consumer goods and social workers Girish Prabhune and Sindhutai Sapkal. Prabhune is known for his work among nomadic tribes, especially the Pardhi community, Sakpal has worked extensively for orphans.

The ruling combine in Maharashtra, however, is not happy about the awards. “Maharashtra makes big contribution to the country in various fileds, but has received only Six awards. The number should have been at least 10-12,” Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut told news agency PTI, while Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant Sawant alleged that the Padma awards have been given to those who are close to the RSS or its affiliated organisations. “The real work was not the criteria. What mattered was one’s closeness with the RSS, which is unfortunate,” he said in a statement sent out to the media.

Sawant rued Maharashtra had made 99 recommendations of which only one (Sakpal) was accepted by the centre, while sources said Raut’s name was on the list.

Sawant’s accusation of RSS affiliation too doesn’t hold true. Jaswantiben Popat, who received award in the field of trade and industry, is known for her commitment towards women empowerment through entrepreneurship. She was among the seven founders of women’s cooperative “Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad”. The cooperative started in 1959 with seven members in Mumbai received extensive support of the KVIC of the Government of India and today has around 43,000 employees.

Another awardee Namdeo Kamble is veteran author and teacher from Nagpur. He is known for his Sahitya Acadamy Award winning fiction ‘Raghav Vel’ and has been acclaimed for critical and philosophical writings apart from fiction and poetry. His two recent non-fiction thought provoking books analyse thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and put forth relevance of Gandhi for tomorrow.

Parshuram Gangawane received award for his contribution in the field of folk art. He, along with his two sons, has preserved Chitrakathi folk art at Pinguli of Sindhudurg district. ‘Chitra’ means painting and ‘katha’ is a story in any form. Chitrakathi is the combination of art and storytelling. Chitrakathi artists are from the Thakar tribe. They not only create paintings, but are also performers, composing the songs that tell stories, and performing them to music. By modulating their voice to create dialogue and drama, the performance is also backed by vocals and playing traditional musical instruments.

Sapkal, popularly known as “Mai”, has been working for over 40 years for orphaned children, starting and running an orphanage in Pune. A teen-age uneducated destitute driven out from by husband and turned down by parents, Sakpal not just supported herself and her daughters, but raised over 1200 orphaned children without taking any government funds. He oratory skills bring money for her orphanage. She has also won over 750 awards for her work, while filmmaker Ananth Mahadevan’s film on her life, Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, received four national awards in 2010.

Girish Prabhune is the only name on the Padma awardee list of Maharashtra which has been associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for a long time. Prabhune, who currently runs Punarutthan Samarasata Gurukulam, an NGO for upliftment of children from Pardhi community at Chinchwad near Pune, have been working for deprived nomadic communities for around five decades.

An RSS Swayamsevak from his childhood, Prabhune worked as a Pracharak for some time before taking up journalism and writing as his career path. After running a magazine Asidhara for a few years, he started working with weekly Manoos where he was moulded into a social worker. He came into contact with several Dalit and nomad communities, including Pardhis, while working on a community farming project in a village near Pune. He was able to convince around 80 percent of villagers, who had migrated to Mumbai in search of jobs, to return to village and adopt farming for livelihood.

Prabhune became organizing secretary of Samajik Samarasata Manch when it was founded in 1983. The work eventually led him to what became his life mission. Bhatke Vimukta Vikas Pratisthan was soon formed for social upliftment of the nomadic tribal communities. Pardhi community in Maharashtra was termed as criminals under the Criminal Tribes Act 1871 by the British. Though the act was repealed in 1952, community members faced police atrocities under this act. Prabhune organized community members to fight out and prevent such atrocities.

The organisation also helped in setting up abodes for the tribes, identifying open spaces in selected areas for the wandering tribes to set up their camps, providing schools for ensuring continued education for their children, liaising with philanthropic bodies and industrial houses for financial and/or material assistance.

A school along with hostel facility was set up at Yamgarwadi in Osmanabad district of Southern Maharashtra in 1992, while an experiment to settle the Pardhis for the first time was started at Magarsangavi at around the same time.

Prabhune started ‘Punaruththan Samarasata Gurukulam‘, a residential school for Pardhi children at Chinchwad near Pune in 2005. The school, a residential facility based on the ancient Gurukul education system, runs through crowdfunding and donations. Besides academic, skill-based training is being provided to these students from an early age. Around 450 students from nomadic tribes are currently being trained into modern education as well as traditional art and knowledge preserved by their respective communities at the facility. The work has received several accolades.


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