India’s highest glory

Issue 01, 2021

India’s highest glory

India Perspectives |author

Issue 01, 2021

There is nothing a woman cannot do if she puts her mind to it. Be it scaling Mount Everest five times, turning a small business into one of India’s prominent consumer goods companies or successfully running an organic farm at 105 years of age. Here are a few women achievers from all walks of life, who have been recognised by the Government of India with the prestigious Padma Awards in 2021

One of India’s highest civilian honours, the Padma Awards, are announced on the occasion of Republic Day (January 26) every year. The awards are conferred by the President of India in three categories – Padma Vibhushan (for exceptional and distinguished service), Padma Bhushan (for distinguished service of high order) and Padma Shri (for distinguished service in any field) –  honouring Indians who have made exceptional contributions in various fields, including art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, sports and civil service.This year, President Ram Nath Kovind approved the conferment of 119 Padma Awards — seven Padma Vibhushan, 10 Padma Bhushan and 102 Padma Shri. Of the total awardees, 29 are women. On the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8), we feature the inspiring stories of five of this year’s women Padma awardees.

Bhuri Bai Art, Madhya Pradesh

Bhuri Bai is a familiar name in the field of Indian tribal and folk art. In fact, she is a champion of the traditional Pithora painting of the Bhil community. She was the first woman from her village in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, to take the indigenous art, which is primarily done on the walls of the huts in her village, and put it on paper and large canvases. The dedication with which she pursued her passion not only garnered her accolades in the Indian art community but also got her one of the most prestigious recognitions of the country this year – the Padma Shri. Bhuri Bai’s works have travelled the world and have even been showcased in galleries and museums in Europe, Australia and the US. One of her paintings titled “Story of the Jungle” was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2007. For her contribution to the indigenous art of Pithora painting and taking it to the world, she has been honoured with Shikhar Samman and Ahalya Samman by the Government of Madhya Pradesh.

Anshu Jamsenpa Sports, Arunachal Pradesh

Scaling Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world, is every mountaineer’s dream. And Arunachal Pradesh’s Anshu Jamsenpa is no different. But what sets her apart is the fact that she did not climb the mountain once or twice, but five times! In 2011, she achieved the incredible feat of conquering the mountain twice in the same month – first on May 12 and then on May 21. With this, she scripted her name as the fastest woman in the world to climb Mount Everest twice in one season. She scaled the Himalayan peak for the third time in 2013.  Jamsenpa, however, broke all records when she took on the 8,848.86-m-high giant in 2017 twice in a gap of five days – on May 16 and May 21. This achievement is hailed as the fastest double climb of Mount Everest ever by a woman. For her grit, resilience and determination, she was honoured with the Padma Shri in 2021.

NEW DELHI, INDIA – SEPTEMBER 25: Indian mountaineer Dr. Anshu Jamsenpa receives the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award 2017 for her achievements in mountaineering from President Ram Nath Kovind during the National Sports and Adventure Award 2018 function at Rashtrapati Bhawan on September 25, 2018 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Sumitra Mahajan Public Affairs, Madhya Pradesh

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan is as humble as she is passionate about development. Lovingly called “tai” (elder sister in her native language, Marathi), she started her career as a corporator in the Indore Municipal Corporation in 1982. She soon rose through the ranks to serve as Speaker of Lok Sabha for five years till she retired in 2019. She was the longest-serving female Member of Parliament representing the Indore constituency of Madhya Pradesh from 1989 to 2019. She was also instrumental in bringing a number of developmental projects to Indore, starting from railways and aviation to urban development. An affable lady with a warm demeanour, she championed the cause of women by effectively articulating their issues. Side by side, she also upheld the values and traditions that enhanced the dignity of the Parliament. She has always maintained that her step towards politics was not one of ambition or of seeking power, but of service. She is the only woman to be bestowed with the Padma Bhushan in 2021.

Parliament Speaker Sumitra Mahajan gestures as she arrives to attend the winter session of Parliament in New Delhi on November 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Money SHARMA / AFP / MONEY SHARMA (Photo credit should read MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)

R Pappammal Agriculture, Tamil Nadu

She is 105 years old but that does not stop her from waking up before dawn and taking a tour of her village in Thekkampatti, Coimbatore, before heading off to her 2.5-acre organic farm every day. R Pappammal is no less than a local hero in her village, and after being honoured with the Padma Shri in 2021, the centenarian is over the moon. Farming, however, is not new to her as she hails from a family of agriculturalists. She joined the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University to further her interest in the subject. Once asked about the secret to her long life, she pointed out that the food she has eaten growing up and still continues to consume – farm fresh vegetables, wholesome millets and local produce – is what has kept her healthy for so long.

Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat Trade & Industry, Maharashtra

What started on March 15, 1959, with a group of seven Gujarati women, residing in Bombay (present-day Mumbai), attempting to create a sustainable livelihood for themselves, has today become one of India’s largest women-run institutions — Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, led by Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat. She borrowed INR 80 (approximately USD 1.1 in the current exchange rate) as capital investment and, along with her group, rolled out four packets of papad or poppadom (a large circular piece of thin, spiced bread made from ground lentils and fried in oil) to sell in the local market. Over time and with the incredible success of the hand-rolled products, the members, or “sister” as they liked to be called, grew. The company, too, diversified its products to include traditional and ready-made masala (spices), gehu atta (whole wheat flour) and detergent powder. The Government of India honoured Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat with the Padma Shri in 2021 for her visionary venture that has stood the test of time.


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