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Celebs & Civilian Awards: How Deserving Are They?

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By Shreyasi Ghosh:

India is a country which is divided in opinion on almost every imaginable issue. So it doesn’t really come as a surprise that a few names in the list of Padma Shri awardees for the year 2010 have triggered off a nationwide debate over their candidature and whether they really deserve it or not. Most notable among these names is actor Saif Ali Khan’s; he himself had expressed surprise at the announcement and was quoted saying that there are many others out in the world who make far more deserving candidates than him.

His recommendation had sparked vehement protests Rajasthan, mainly among the Bishnoi community along with many wildlife activists who feel that his felicitation is sending a wrong message to the people of the nation because the actor had previously been accused of killing black bucks in 1998 in Jodhpur and has a case pending against him in the court. They feel that if a popular actor and prominent public figure like Khan can get away with illegally killing animals in forest reserves and be treated with honor and given an award as prestigious as the Padma Shri, then people, especially the impressionable lot, will take to flouting the laws of the land like the celebrities they adore and look up to for inspiration. They cannot be blamed for these grave misgivings. After all, it is known for a fact that Khan has a huge fan following and the mere concept of a breakup party shown in his film “Love Aaj Kal” has set the ball rolling for many such parties to take place all across the country.

Saif Ali Khan is one name amongst many other people who, according to most people, are undeserving candidates who haven’t made any significant social contribution.

People, general public and the Indian media alike, had also questioned the sanctity of the award after some other big names in the film industry, namely Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Akshay Kumar were conferred the awards in 2009. The former has been credited for taking the Indian film and fashion industry to the global map, after having represented India in many an international event, film festivals, fashion shows etc. But according to most people, she has not done her bit for the society and hence doesn’t deserve this award. Many have been heard complaining that influential people with reach in the political circles of Delhi can easily lobby for these civilian awards and get names shortlisted. Some of these announcements are highly politically motivated decisions that, they fear, will diminish the sanctity and reputation of these awards which will then stand to lose their credibility.

These agitations are quite justified in more ways than one. By dancing around trees, parroting lines written by others, parading in fashionable clothes, hobnobbing with the glitterati and the likes, one cannot be deemed worthy of an award of the stature of the Padma Shri. Has their activities resulted in any real social progress? If an actress receives this award, does this pave an easy road for the emancipation of women in this country? If a person who has made his/her way to the list of awardees using all his/her political contacts, then what example is he/she setting for a nation of more than one billion?

That it is okay to forget one’s social responsibilities and pursue individual goals? Moreover the hedonistic lifestyle of these celebrities, their bad behavior and tendency to break laws, the glitz and glamour of the tinsel town that they project as a way of life has resulted in more unfortunate incidents than one, with people foolishly running after cheap fame and money to put themselves in the same bracket as their favorite celebs.

So now, if our government decides to award these people in the name of significant contribution in the fields of art, then what greater purpose does it serve apart from massaging the already inflated egos of these celebs and catering to the demands of the power corridors of Delhi who favor them? And it is not that all of the names in the list of these awards have actually achieved any substantial goals to write home about-few runaway hits, few projects which bombed at the box office; that’s about it. So this does make the candidature of these celebrities for some of the highest civilian awards of the country very questionable indeed.

Another grave, if not unexpected trend is that mostly cricketers are usually considered for this award from the realms of sports. There have been sportsmen like Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar who have been overlooked for the Padma Shri award in 2009 despite having won laurels at the Olympics, while Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh were awarded. The athletes have been graceful enough to not grudge them this honor but have expressed disappointment for not winning. Akhil Kumar, Commonwealth Games gold medalist, voices the opinion of many an athlete who are not cricketers – that only in India, one sport enjoys nationwide media and public attention while other sports are categorically overlooked. Abhinav Bindra, who had been awarded the Padma Bhushan joins in solidarity with these athletes, blaming the nation for only supporting cricketers despite the efforts of players in other sports to bring home the glory.

That said, the definition of social contribution also depends on how you look at it. No one can deny the unifying power of Indian cinema or cricket. When a Sachin Tendulkar hits a sixer, the entire nation, irrespective of religion, cheers for him. There are films which find resonance in the context of India’s social structure and portray the struggles of the common people, try to shed some light on various social evils and make people aware of the country’s glorious traditions and sow the seeds of hope for a better future in the nation.

Many celebrities have also used their fame and power to promote social solidarity and various other causes which had inspired the common mass to come forward in their missions. And one cannot deny that celebrities, cricketers and film stars alike, are indeed doing a good job of representing India in the global platform. To many non-Indians, India is synonymous with its films and film stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. The justification behind this philosophy might be questionable, but the spirit is undoubtedly appreciated.

When state governments, central ministries etc recommend the names of the celebrities in the Award Committee, it is the duty of the Home Minister and ultimately the President’s office to ensure that only truly deserving people from different fields are awarded, the operative word here being ‘different’. Genuinely inspiring people, people who actually do something substantial for the country should be considered first. Or the awards stand to lose their gravitas.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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