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The unsung heroes of India

India, no doubt, has been the land of selfless individuals, who have helped build a society, that is critical for nationbuilding. Prime Minister Narendra Modi realised their importance and ensured that their work was recognised.

The nomination process for Padma awards was opened to thepublic, thereby making it a people’s movement. As a result, many individuals who were silently helping build a healthy and strong society and remained invisible, were brought to light. We have tried to highlight a few such unsung heroes of our Nation. Their contribution is immense, but they never complained of hardship, struggles and obstructions, that came in their way. Some stories of the individuals will give you goosebumps, while others will bring tears ofpride. Many like them continue to work, even as you read. But let’s celebratethose who have been recognised in 2021. The conundrum of picking some names and leaving out others in a print medium is challenging for writers. But, editor IAF passionately calls them the ‘Unsung Heroes,’ or ‘People’s People.’

Mrs. Trinity Saioo, also known as Turmeric Trinity, is from Mulieh village, West Jaintia Hills District, Meghalaya. She is working with the Lakadong Variety of turmeric and assists the unread women in learning organic farming methods to boost their earnings. Today she is working with more than 900 farmers and probably touching thousands. She was presented with the fourth highest civilian award, ‘Padma Shri’, for leading turmeric farming. Initially, it was Lakachin variety of turmeric that was grown in Mulieh village; however, when Mrs. Saioo came to know of a much superior quality of turmeric, i.e., the Lakadong turmeric, she started putting more efforts in creating awareness among the farmers of the importance of cultivation this particular variety. It was finally in the year 2003 that the cultivation of this variety got a boost through the subsidies received under the Spices Board. Mrs. Saioo engaged the village women in the grading and processing of turmeric, which ultimately led to better marketing of turmeric and its value-added products. She seeks to set a targeted quantum of 50,000 MT by the year 2023 and thereby increase its market footprint across the country with and without government support. Another Padma awardee Tulsi Gowda has planted more than 30,000 saplings and has been involved in environmental conservation. She is also known as the Encyclopedia of Forest”. She is renowned for her ability to identify the mother tree of every tree species in the forest, no matter its location.

Tulsi Gowda walked barefoot amidst thunderous applause at the Investiture Ceremony in Rashtrapati Bhavan. She was born into an impoverished family. Her father died when she was only two, causing her to begin working alongside her mother as a temporary day labourer at a local government nursery once she was old enough, prohibiting her from ever receiving a formal education. Later, she was taking care of the seeds to be grown and harvested at the Karnataka Forestry Department, at the Agasur seedbed. Over the years, she was absorbed as a permanent employee. 

Today she has retired from the Karnataka Forestry Department. She has dedicated the rest of her life to teaching the children of her village about the importance of the forest and how to find and care for seeds. She also champions women’s rights within her village.

Transgender folk dancer of Jogamma heritage, and the first transwoman President of Karnataka Janapada Academy, Matha B Manjamma Jogati, received the Padma Shri award this year for her contribution to the field of folk arts. The 60-year-old dancer has been instrumental in popularising the folk art forms practised in rural Karnataka, Maharashtra and parts of Andhra Pradesh. has mastered several art forms such as the Jogati Nritya, a ritual dance performed by the Jogappa community, and Janapada songs, and is well known for her melodious sonnets in Kannada, sung in praise of female deities. Manjamma was born in a middleclass family in the Ballari district of Karnataka. She studied till Class 10 and was married to a local deity, preventing her from returning home. She met Mattikal Basappa, a folk artist when she was struggling to support her life. From him, she learned the Jogati Nritya. She joined a dance troupe owned by Jogati performer Kalavva Jogati and popularised the dance form. President Kovind presented Padma Shri to Harekala Hajabba for Social Work. Karnataka, an orange vendor in Mangalore, saved money from his vendor business to build a school in his village. Hajabba earned Rs 75 every day from selling fruits and provided for a five family, still saving money. It took decades to build the school, but he kept tirelessly and with conviction. In the place he works, he is affectionately known as ‘Akshara Santa’ (letter-saint). He could not attend school due to financial constraints and began working at a young age. However, he wishes to provide education to underprivileged children so that children who cannot attend school due to financial constraints might get an education. Today, the Hajabba School has developed with government funding and private contributions. His next objective is to establish a Pre-University college in his village. The life history of Hajabba has been included in the syllabus of Mangalore University. Padma Shri was conferred to 83-year-old Mohammad Shareef for Social Work. He is a cycle mechanic turned social worker. He performs the last rites of unclaimed dead bodies of all religions with full dignity. Popularly known as “Sharif Chacha” in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya, he has performed the last rites of over 25,000 unclaimed bodies over the past 30 years. He has performed the last ceremonies of individuals across religions — Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians. He arranges for the last rites according to the religion of the dead. Sharif took to social service in 1992 after a horrific incident in which his son Raees was murdered. In his district, the police would hand over bodies unclaimed for 72 hours for cremation or burial to him.



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