One of the highest civilian honours in India, the Padma Awards are given for exceptional and distinguished service in a particular field. The official ceremony for the Padma awards for the year 2020 was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was held on November 8, 2021, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, where President Ram Nath Kovind presented the awards to 119 awardees. Among the 119 awardees are 29 incredible women from different walks of life.
The Revolutionary Women under Spotlight
- Dr. Niru Kumar – “I have a passion to bring diversity and inclusion to every corner of the country.”
The prestigious Padma Awards for 2021 have recognized achievements by people with disabilities across diverse fields.
Dr. Kumar is a medical doctor, psychologist, and diversity and inclusion consultant. She has been changing the lives of people through a blend of modern medicine, psychology, coaching skills and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Dr. Kumar is a pioneer in raising awareness about the concept of diversity and inclusion among Indian companies.
Dr. Kumar has been living with a physical disability. She has been battling Polio from the time she was three years old. She has faced barriers due to her disability and is passionate about spreading awareness about diversity and inclusion.
2. Padma Shri Tulasi Gowda – ‘Encyclopedia of Forest’
Tulasi Gowda, a 72-year-old tribal woman from Karnataka, was conferred the Padma Shri award on Monday for her contribution to the protection of the environment. Barefoot and dressed in traditional attire, she received India’s fourth-highest civilian award from President Ram Nath Kovind during a ceremony in New Delhi. She has planted more than 30,000 saplings and looks after the nurseries of the Forest Department. Despite having no formal education, she has made immense contributions towards preserving the environment.
She has been given the title ‘Encyclopedia of Forest’ for her vast knowledge of the diverse species of plants and herbs. Since the age of 12, she has planted and nurtured thousands of trees.
3. Sindhutai Sapkal – Mother of Orphans
She is a woman of valour and courage who faced unprecedented ups and downs in her life but nothing deterred her will to live for others. She was married at an early age of 12 years and was a victim of domestic violence. It was while living as a homeless person and begging at railway stations that she saw many children abandoned by their family members. Battling all odds, she decided to devote her entire life to orphans. She used to travel from one place to another, singing in temples, and even begging. She is fondly called ‘mai’ and has nurtured over a 1000 children.
In 2013, she became the first recipient of The National Award for Iconic Mother. She also received the Nari Shakti Puraskar in 2017 and Social Worker of the Year award from Wockhardt Foundation in 2016, among many others
4. Dr. Birubala Rabha – Human Rights Activist
The 72-year-old, Assam’s crusader against witch hunting, devoted her life, and through her organisation, Mission Birubala, is responsible for the state passing the Assam Witch Hunting Act in 2015. Her fortitude has guided her against witch hunting, through a remarkable life – a life that has been awarded with one of India’s highest civilian awards, the Padma Shri.
Dr. Birubala Rabha is fighting against the social menace of witch-hunting prevalent in the state, especially among the tribal communities. After dealing with personal struggles, she heard stories of people in her village being labelled as ‘witches’. Several women from the neighbouring village had been brutally raped and exiled because they were claimed to be ‘witches’. She has been campaigning against witchcraft and witch-hunting, fighting for the cause for more than 15 years now. Rabha has travelled far and wide to spread awareness about the mistreatment of women.
5. Lakhimi Baruah- Banker turned Social Entrepreneur
She is the founder of Konoklata Mahila Urban Cooperative Bank, licensed from RBI. She has provided credit to thousands of women and made a positive change to their lives in Jorhat, Sivasagar and Golaghat districts.
Before starting the bank, she worked closely with underprivileged women through Mahila Samiti in Dakshin Sarbaibandha area of Jorhat district, which she founded in 1983.
6. Manjamma Jogati – Only Transgender Woman to be awarded a Padma Shri
Manjamma Jogati is an Indian Kannada theatre actress, singer and dancer of Jogti Nitya, a golf dance form of North Karnataka.
Manjamma who was named Manjunath Shetty by their parents is no stranger to challenges. Disowned by their family after they identified as a woman in their teenage years and having battled poverty, social discrimination, and rape, Manjamma found solace in mastering Jogati Nritya, Janapada songs, and other rural folk art. They are also the first transgender President of the Karnataka Janapada Academy.
Tweeting on being conferred India’s fourth highest civil honour, they wrote, “Human is human; there are no lesser human beings. Art is Art; there are no lesser Art/Artists…For many like me – Art itself is Life!”
7. Pappammal – A 105-year-old Organic Farmer
“Even today, I wake up before the sun, wash my face, and go around the village once, I cannot sit still.”
From the Thekkampatti village near Coimbatore, Pappammal is a 105-year-old woman who has given a leg up to organic farming. Even at this age she wakes up before the sun to head to the fields. She was married off at an early age of 14 and in an era when women were supposed to be confined within the four walls of the house, she had ambition.
Pappammal is from a family of agriculturists. She owns a 2.5-acre farm in her village, and in the past, grew lentils such as horse gram and green gram. Now, she mostly grows bananas. Over the years, she has worked closely with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.
- P.V. Sindhu
President Ram Nath Kovind presented the third highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan, to shuttler PV Sindhu.
The 26-year-old, who has already received the Padma Shri in 2015 and Khel Ratna in 2016, won a silver medal in women’s singles badminton at the 2016 Rio Olympics and followed it up with a bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
2. Mouma Das
Ace Table Tennnis player Mouma Das has represented India at various international events including the Olympic Games in 2004 and 2012. She partnered with Manika Batra and reached the quarterfinals of the women’s doubles event at the 2017 World Table Tennis Championships. The duo also bagged the silver medal during the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Hailing from Kolkata, the 36-year-old was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2013.
3. Anshu Jamsenpa
Anshu Jamsenpa scripted history as the first woman to scale the summit of Mt. Everest twice in a month – in May 2011. The mountaineer broke her own record by scaling the summit twice in five days in 2017.
Hailing from Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh, Anshu is also mother of two children and her journey as a mountaineer is dotted with many recognitions and awards. She received the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award from President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 and India’s Highest Adventure Award in the following year.
4. Anitha Pauldurai
Anitha Pauldurai is a former captain of the Indian women’s national basketball team – the youngest one at 19. The sportswoman holds a record of 30 medals in national championships from nearly two decades of playing for the Indian Women National team. She is also the first Indian woman to have participated in nine Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) championships.
5. MC Mary Kom
The face of women boxing in India, Mary Kom was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award. Mary Kom set a new standard in amateur boxing without ever competing in professional boxing. In 2015, she became the first amateur to surpass several professional athletes in India in earnings, endorsements and awards.
6. Oinam Bembem Devi
She is an Indian footballer born in Imphal, Manipur. In 2017, she was honoured with the Arjuna award by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. She was nicknamed the ‘Durga of Indian Football’ and is currently involved in spreading awareness about Women’s football in India.
The ‘Durga of Indian Football’ Oinam Bembem Devi became the first Indian woman footballer, and the seventh overall to receive the prestigious Padma Shri Award on Monday.
Out of a long list of Padma awardees, 29 women from different walks of life, have been awarded. This year these awards have been People’s Padma Awards in the true sense since people working at the grassroot level, the ones who deserve to be under the spotlight, have been honoured.
These women are a source of inspiration for and have left a mark on generations to come. The valour with which they have faced unprecedented challenges and emerged gloriously is immensely encouraging.