Padma Awards and The Bahujans – On A Deeper Look
Babasaheb has pointed out that religion has gone through four stages where originally it was for the salvation of one’s soul, then it became a moral compass for maintaining brotherhood, but in its third and fourth stage, it became a practice of worshipping those who performed miracles. India, a country born by the transfer of power by the Britishers to the upper caste in 1947, in wanting to go back to a mythical glorious Hindu past, has no choice but to keep manufacturing fictitious miracle performing gods for distracting the Bahujan from looking too closely at this myth.
The latest ruse is the announcement that Padma Awards are to be the People’s Award, where nominations, including self-nominations, were invited from the unsung heroes who work at the grassroots. The nominations closed on 15th Sept. This move is the typical upper-caste strategy of campaigning for change as long as the caste privilege and graded inequality is undisturbed. The awards are three in number with the lowest being the Padma Shree, then Padma Bhushan and the highest being Padma Vibhushan which is also the second-highest civilian award.
If we look at the history of the state awards, these awards follow the precedent set in 1878 by the reward of Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire to officers who served British India well. It was created in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s ascension as Empress of India. Said to be designed by then Crown Jewellers, R.S. Garrad & Co, the medal had a lotus with letters of the word India written on petals of the lotus; this design of the medal is continued in the Padma award. The Indian Awards were constituted in the 1950s which was an era of consolidation of power in the hands of upper castes, led by the North Indian Brahmins, through entrenching themselves in the institutions transferred to them by the British. This was the time when the first President and first Prime Minister of India were washing the feet of Brahmins at Kashi. The Congress was unable to find a strong foothold in the South and hence state reorganisation was becoming an important tool of gerrymandering.
To appease and placate the disgruntled upper caste, these awards were instituted and no wonder, that the highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, was given to three Tamil Brahmins, from the land where Periyar’s Self Respect movement was causing massive upheavals against them. The 6th Buddhist Council in Rangoon was held in 1954 where Babasaheb, also India’s Constitution maker, was invited by the Burmese government and the resurrection of Buddhist awakening here was reaching fruition through him. Incidentally, Babasaheb was only honoured with the Bharat Ratna in 1990, post which India abandoned the pretence of socialism and embraced capitalism overtly.
Looking at the Padma awardees from 1954 till 2021, we can see a few trends. Irrespective of the Congress or the BJP, just post the election years, the number of awardees goes up as if to acknowledge their contribution to helping the ruling upper caste party win. In the past decade or so, the cap of total only 120 awardees had been broken, with 93, 31, 10 Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan respectively in 2009, then again in the year 2010 ( 80,43,6), 2011(85,31,12), 2014 (100,24,2) with these numbers peaking in 2020 (118, 16,7).
Typically, the Ratna of Bharat is the Brahmin, with this 3% population capturing 54.16% of the 48 Bharat Ratnas. If we add Kayasthas and Khatris to this list, then the percentage shoots up to 66.67%. The Muslims, who constitute 18% of India’s population, have 10.41% representation in the awards, the Muslim awardees can also be classified as upper castes, they call themselves Arab Pashtun descendants, except Ustad Bismillah Khan, who comes from a Scheduled Caste. The only OBC to have made the cut was whom Babasaheb called ‘the henchman of Gandhi’, to be awarded along with a Brahmin, exactly a year after Babasaheb’s Bharat Ratna as if to pit that Shudra angst against us, so that is 2% representation of the 52% population of Shudras. Two women have been honoured, both the women are singers, who come from temple entertainer mothers, Brahmin father backgrounds. 3 people from the Scheduled Castes have been awarded, no ST person has been recognised yet. However, 2 foreigners have been Bharat Ratnas.
Looking closely at the 321 Padma Vibhushans awarded till date, we see this pattern being repeated. 42.67% of the winners are Brahmins. If we add Kayasthas and Khatris to this, they occupy 55.76% of the awards. After adding upper castes like Nair, Reddys, Kammas, Jats, Vanias etc. the percentage rises to 72.27%. The Muslim awardees are at 7.47% with most claiming Arab or Brahmin/upper caste descent like sons of Qazis or zamindars. The only exception was a Qureshi Muslim, who was the founding secretary of the BJP. 10 (3%) of those awarded were Christians, 3 of them Syrian Christians. 0.93% of awardees (3/321) were from Scheduled Castes, SCs form 16% of the population of this country. 3 persons (0.93%) from the Scheduled Tribes were awarded, they from 8.2% of people of India. OBCs are at 4.36%. 33 women have been awarded, most of them Brahmins. Interestingly, 12 foreign citizens are Padma Vibhushans. It will be thought-provoking to check the citizenships of the upper caste who dominate these awards. 1281 Padma Bhushan’s and 3221 Padma Shrees have been conferred till date. These awards will also follow the trend of the upper caste patting the backs of the upper castes.
Moreover, these awards are a family affair. For eg: Dr John Matthai received the order of the British Empire (CIE) in 1934, the Padma Vibushan in 1959, his wife the Padma Shree in 1954. Vergese Kurien is his nephew, he received the Padma Shree in 1965, Padham Bhushan in 1966 and Padma Vibhushan in 1999. Similar is the case of John Mathai’s successor in the Indian Cabinet, Sir C.D.Deshmukh who received the OIE in 1937; knighthood from British Empire in 1944 and Padma Vibhushan, 1975; his wife, Durgabai Deshmukh was directly awarded Padma Vibhushan in 1975. Bhagwan Das (Agrawal) received the Bharat Ratna in 1955, his son the Padma Vibhushan in 1957, similar to Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan(Bharat Ratna, 1954; British Order of Merit, 1963) and his son, Dr Sarvepalli Gopal (Padma Vibhushan, 1999). These awards are akin to an obstacle course that one has to tackle. For eg: the Bachchan family, starting with Harivansh Rai Srivastava (Bachchan)(Padma Bhushan 1976), has a total of 6 Padma awards, gradually moving from Padma Shri (1984- Amitabh, 1992-Jaya Bachchan, 2009- Aishwarya) to Padma Bhushan ( Amitabh- 2001) and Padma Vibhushan (Amitabh-2015). Sachin Tendulkar managed to climb up to the Bharat Ratna (2014) after a Padma Shri (1999) and Padma Vibhushan (2008). However, Dhirubhai Ambani was directly awarded the Padma Vibhushan posthumously in 2016. Kangana Ranaut, who is a vocal supporter of BJP and Uttar Pradesh’s brand ambassador for an industrialisation scheme, was conferred the Padma Shri in 2020. Incidentally, Kangana’s late grandfather, Sarju Ram, was a Congress MLA from the Gopalpur constituency of Mandi district.
Further, most of the awardees are those who strengthen the idea of the Hindu Rashtra, like Bharat Ratna and Padma Vibhushan to one of the architects of the anti-Emergency movement and ex-managing editor of the upper caste mouthpieces like the Panchjanya and whose family is currently partnering with Anand Bazar Patrika (ABP) news channel, which also owns The Telegraph newspaper.
With this fact allegations of discrimination in Padma awards have been made occasionally in the past, since the Bhartiya Janta Party government has sworn power in the centre, strong objections have been raised on Padma awards. This time voice of discontent has been reported from the southern states of India and especially, Telangana which needs to be investigated.
Time and again It has been proved repeatedly that in awarding the Padma each time preferences are given to film actor-actresses who have not made any significant contribution to society. There is also no clear criterion mentioned as to which actor or actress can be rewarded.
There have also been strong allegations of caste discrimination, and there is a broad perception that it is easier for people in the influential strata to get the Padma awards.
Allegations of discrimination against Telangana
This time there are also allegations of provincial discrimination, which prima facie seem to be true. On behalf of Telangana, Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao himself has raised these questions of discrimination.
Chandrashekhar Rao sees the political reason behind this. It is to be noted that Telangana is one of those states where the Bharatiya Janata Party was unable to find a foothold despite making efforts to woo the voters. Chandrashekhar Rao has been vocal about the issues of inflation, underemployment and VAT.
The Telangana chief minister said that the central government does not honour the people of Telangana. The government has deliberately chosen to ignore the Telangana citizens while giving prestigious awards. It is to be noted that only Kanaka Raju of Telangana’s art world has been included in the Padma Awards for 2021.
Discrimination Against Telanagana Has Increased Significantly
Earlier in 2020, Padma awards were given to only three personalities from Telangana. Padma Shri was given to badminton player PV Sindhu, progressive farmer Chintala Venkata Reddy and litterateur Vijayasarathy Sribhasyam. There was no name from Telangana in Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan.
Similarly, in 2019 too, only two people from Telangana could find a place in the list of Padma awards. Among them, football player Sunil Chhetri, and poet Srivennala Sitaram Shastri were considered worthy of Padma Shri. In 2018, no person from Telangana was considered worthy of the Padma award.
Punishing Telangana for not voting BJP in 2017?
Surprisingly, in 2017 i.e. before the Telangana Assembly elections, 7 people of Telangana were awarded Padma Shri. In those elections, the BJP wielded power in Telangana the same way it did in West Bengal earlier this year.
It is believed that then the people of Telangana had to be wooed, so 7 people from there were awarded the Padma Shri. A glimpse of its preparation was also seen in 2016. Then nine people of Telangana were given Padma awards, out of which 5 were Padma Shri, 1 Padma Vibhushan and 4 Padma Bhushan.
It seems that in the years before the elections, the BJP government was constantly showing talent in Telangana, but when the people rejected the BJP in the assembly elections, the central government completely sidelined Telangana in 2018. Only 2 were given a place in 2019 and 3 were selected in 2020 but in 2021 again only one was given place.
Share of other states in Padma awards
On a regional basis, while Telangana was given only one Padma Shri in 2021, Assam got 9 Padma Shri and one Padma Bhushan. Uttar Pradesh got 7 Padma Shri and 2 Padma Bhushan. Uttarakhand also got two Padma Shri.
To take political advantage in the elections in West Bengal, the BJP government elected 6 Padma Shri from Bengal and one Padma Shri from Bangladesh. Among other smaller states, one Padma Bhushan and two Padma Shri were elected from Haryana. Two Padma Vibhushan and 4 Padma Shri were also elected from a Union Territory like Delhi, which proves the point of former minister and senior leader Sharad Yadav that people close to power have more access to these awards.
Other people have also raised questions
Renowned social activist and an internationally renowned Gastroenterologist and Liver Transplant Specialist, Dr Manisha says that “As long as the BJP hoped that the people of Telangana would support the party in elections, it distributed Padma awards to the people of Telangana very generously, but when the public outrightly dismissed BJP in elections and from governing the state, the party has turned its eye.
Dr Manisha Bangar also says that “Along with regionalism, casteism is also a big issue in these awards and this situation has been going on since the rule of Nehru and Congress.”
Dr Manisha Bangar further adds that the scope has been widened to avoid criticism and artist scholars too have been included in the list of Padma Shri. A large number of these people are awarded without any significant contributions to society.
While these people take all the credit many deserving candidates are ignored and forgotten despite their huge contribution to uplifting society.
Well-known writer and social activist HL Dusadh say that “This is an era when speaking against the government is considered as speaking against the country, so in this era, the government should consider those people as good for the government who are working for the good of the country.
Mr Dusadh says that the present government is disappointing on every front, so there are no hopes that this government will ensure diversity in awards distribution.
Surprisingly, the Padma awards carry no state support, they are just a state identification of individual contribution or acknowledgement. In 2019, 12 farmers were awarded for helping conserve indigenous seed varieties, assessing soil quality and promoting organic farming. However, since there is no monetary help to them nor is there a mechanism to learn from these innovations and introduce a progressive change throughout our landmass, we fail to usher in modernity from the grassroots starting with a sector that employs 62% of the citizens. These awards try to shift accountability from the state institutions onto individuals and point to the failures of the institutions to fulfil their obligations to treat all its citizens as equals. The Constitution has guaranteed us rights, but as Babasaheb pointed out, democracy is only the topsoil on this deeply caste-ridden society.
The Padma awards, like any colonial recognition, serve the agenda of those in power. But this land is of the one who had no agenda except to be the marga-data for the welfare of all. The state still continues to lean upon the token of the Buddha, represented in ancient times by the symbol of lotus, the one unaffected by any ripples, the Happy One.
Writer, Dr Anuradha Bele is a social activist, a veterinary doctor and an engineer with a degree in management. Co-writer Mahendra Yadav is a socio-political analyst and a Delhi based senior journalist.
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