Ahead of the Republic Day celebrations, the government on Saturday announced 118 awardees to be conferred with the Padma Shri Award. The government has selected 118 people from different fields who will be given the Padma Shri Award. The list includes the names of Jagdish Lal Ahuja, Javed Ahmad Tak, Satyanarayana Mundayoor, S. Ramakrishna, Yogi Aeron, Tulasi Gowda, Abdul Jabbar and Usha Chaumar, among others.
The government said Ahuja, who is also known as 'Langar Baba,' is being awarded for "selflessly organising langars for 500-plus poor patients daily for over two decades in Chandigarh".
Ahuja also provides patients with financial assistance and clothes.
The government said that Ahuja is a self-made billionaire who came to India empty-handed during the Partition. He sold off properties worth crores to fuel his mission and continues to serve undeterred even after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Tak, who belongs to Anantnag in Jammu and Kashmir, has been working with specially-abled children for two decades to enable them to integrate into the mainstream life. Tak is wheelchair-bound since 1997 due to a spinal injury that he received from a bullet fired in a militant attack.
Another Padma Shri awardee, Sharif aka 'Chacha Sharif,' is a resident of Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh. The government said that Sharif, a bicycle mechanic, has been performing the last rites of thousands of unclaimed dead bodies for the last 25 years.
Among the other "unsung heroes" who will be awarded the Padma Shri is Tulasi Gowda, also known as the "Encyclopaedia of Forest" due to her vast knowledge of diverse species of plants and herbs, despite not having any formal education.
The government said that Gowda, despite growing up in poverty in a backward community, planted and nurtured thousands of trees over the past 60 years. "Even at the age of 72, she continues to nurture plants and share her knowledge with the people, carrying forward the message of environment protection," the government said.
Another recipient is Mundayoor, also known as 'uncle Moosa' of Arunachal, who has been promoting education and reading culture in remote areas of Arunachal Pradesh for the last four decades.
Mundayoor, who was born in Kerala, had left his government job as a revenue officer in Mumbai and moved to Lohit in Arunachal in 1979. He has established 13 libraries in remote areas such as Wakro, Chongkham, Lathaw and Ajnaw. He also started a home library movement, entrusting books to volunteers who in turn distribute the books to children.
Ravi Kannan, also known as Silchar's saviour, was included in the list of Padma Shri awardees. He is a surgical oncologist from Chennai, who has treated over 70,000 cancer patients free of cost in Barak Valley. The treatment includes accommodation, food, employment and spreading awareness.
He is known to have transformed the rural cancer centre into a full-fledged hospital and research centre. He quit his job in Chennai and shifted to Assam with family in 2007 to make healthcare accessible in the Barak Valley, where before his intervention, the nearest hospital was 300 km away.
Another awardee, Kushal Knowar Sarma, a veterinarian in Guwahati, has devoted his life to the conservation of Asian elephants. Interestingly, he has not taken a single weekend off in the last 30 years. He is acclaimed for treating more than 700 elephants every year. He has pioneered research in elephant anesthetic, especially using a remote tranquilising injection technique.
Arunoday Mondal, also known as 'Sunderban ke Sujan', is a doctor who travels six hours every weekend to treat patients in remote Sundarban villages. More than 250 people, 80 per cent of whom are poor, are treated every weekend for varied ailmets. He also arranges medicines, conducts medical camps and blood donation drives. He set up Sujan Sundarban, a free medical service centre, at his residence in Chandanpur after the Bengal floods in 2000.
The list also includes Yogi Aeron, known as Himalaya's helping hand. He started Helping Hand in Dehradun and is dedicated to providing medical help to the hill people. He treats over 500 patients free of cost every year. The patients include those suffering from burns or are mauled by animals. His patients are mostly poor, hill women from remote villages in the Himalayas.
Harekala Hajjaba is an orange vendor from Harekala village in Mangaluru, Karnataka, popularly known as 'Akshara Santa' or 'Saint of Letters'. He saved up money from selling oranges and started a primary school to educate the children in his village in Mangaluru, according to a report in the BBC.
Having not learnt how to read or write, the motivation to begin a school came from his own inability to talk to a foreigner who asked the price for oranges in English. Hajjaba started a primary school in his village in 2000 with just 28 students. He then took loans and used up his savings to buy land for that school. A few years later, he started a high school for students aged 10 to 14 in the same village.
Seeing his zeal to ensure education for the children in his village, philanthropists joined the cause, helping Hajjaba with whatever money they could donate.
Sanjeev Bikhchandani, founder and vice-chairman of Naukri.com, India's leading job site, has also been named for Padma Shri. According to a Home Ministry statement, Bikhchandani has been given Padma Shri in the category of trade and industry.
His company also runs Jeevansathi.com, 99acres.com, and Shiksha.com.
Bikhchandani had graduated from IIM Ahmedabad in 1989 and started off from a servant quarter above a garage and a seed capital of Rs 2000. His company grew and attracted investments from leading global venture capitalists.
Besides them, 12 foreign nationals also made it to the list of 118 Padma Shri awardees this year.