ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Why Padma Awards?

Should the State continue to confer national awards that have been devalued by lobbying and favouritism?

The Republic Day has been an occasion for the State to honour those of its citizens it considers have made a significant contribution to national life. Instituted in January 1954, the Padma awards, as they are collectively known, have become the pre-eminent marker of national recognition in India, outside the defence and police forces. In the first year (1954) of the awards, there were only 18 Padma Shri, 23 Padma Bhushan and six Padma Vibhushan awardees. But over the years these numbers have swelled along with the scope and spread of those the government of the day wants to honour. This year 93 Padma Shri, 30 Padma Bhushan and 10 Padma Vibhushan awards have been announced. A total of 2,152 Padma Shri, 1,033 Padma Bhushan and 245 Padma Vibhushan awards have been given out. Forty-one Bharat Ratna awards – the highest state honour – have been conferred as well.

In the colonial period, such state awards, whether given by the British or by the so-called “native states”, were seen as crumbs for those who supported colonial and feudal rule. Many of those awards gave their possessors privileges in civic life and were sometimes inheritable. The independent republic, aware of the colonial and feudal smear on such titles and honours, banished them from its domain. Yet, by 1954, state honours were reinstituted in the form of the Padma awards – meant to recognise stellar contributions to nation-building. Mindful of the colonial past, it was made clear that these honours were not titles, could not be inherited and would entitle the awardee to no civic privilege.

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