Education is one of the most basic human rights. It has been linked to personal and professional success in life. On the other hand, literature illustrates how people have leveraged the freedom and power of expression.
Whether fiction or non-fiction, literature tells us about the cultural and historical importance of our lives. And, people behind both must be recognised and rewarded.
Here are six women, from India and abroad, who dedicated their lives to education and literature and were recently conferred the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, on Republic Day.
Brazilian Sanskrit scholar and Vedanta teacher Gloria Arieira received the Padma Shri for her dedication towards traditional Indian Vedas.
A Brazilian Indologist, pioneer of Sanskrit and Vedanta in Brazil, Gloria Arieira - awarded the Padma Shri for his distinguished service to the Nation. #PadmaAwards2020 #PeoplesPadma pic.twitter.com/3z1weaIyXR
— Padma Awards (@PadmaAwards) January 28, 2020
Back in her home country, Gloria continues to propagate the culture and values of Vedas and has translated the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and several other texts into Portuguese. In Rio de Janeiro, where she lives, she has also founded a non-profit organisation called Vidya Mandir in 1984.
Gloria began learning Sanskrit and the Hindu scriptures at Arsha Sandeepany Sadhanalaya in Mumbai, under the guidance of Swami Dayananda, only 10 years before establishing Vidya Mandir. She also studied at ashrams in Uttarkashi and Rishikesh, attended lectures across the country, and visited holy places in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, before returning to Brazil in 1978.
Writer and poet Damayanti Beshra from Odisha is known for her contribution towards Santali literature. A recipient of Sahitya Akademi in 2009, her milestones include publishing Karam Dar, the first woman magazine in Santali language.
A reputed Santhali author and Adivasi researcher, Damayanti Beshra, also known for her important contributions to the language - awarded the Padma Shri for her distinguished service to the Nation. Johar. #PadmaAwards2020 pic.twitter.com/gzs88Pvd7R
— Tribal Army (@TribalArmy) January 28, 2020
With a masters in linguistics from Utkal University in Bhubaneshwar, Damayanti writes in Odia and Santali. In 1990, her first poem Onoliya was published in Fagun Koel magazine. With her husband, writer Gangadhar Hansda’s support and encouragement, she published an anthology of poems Jiwi Jharna, which is also the only anthology written and published by a female Santali writer.
The book also earned Damayanti the Poet of the Year Award from All India Santali Writer’s Association and praise from renown writers.
Sri Lankan Hindi professor Indra Dassanayake was posthumously awarded the Padma Shri for preserving and promoting Hindi literature in her country. An alum of the University of Lucknow and a participant of the first World Hindi Conference at Nagpur in 1975, Indra is credited with making the Hindi language a part of the curriculum in more than 80 universities and schools of Sri Lanka.
During her time as a professor at the University of Kelaniya, she was instrumental in re-establishing its Hindi Department. The recipient of literary honour Dr George Grierson Award during the World Hindi Conference 2007 breathed her last in Colombo last year.
Historian and political scientist Meenakshi Jain is an Associate Professor of History at Gargi College, Delhi. She has authored several books including Parallel Pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim Relations (2010), Rama and Ayodhya (2013), Sati: Evangelicals, Baptist Missionaries and the Changing Colonial Discourse (2016), The flight of deities (2019).
“Rama and Ayodhya” & “The Battle for Rama”. Two books you must read. Meenakshi Jain swept away the falsification of history by ‘eminent historians’ on Ayodhya by marshalling nothing but facts from primary sources. Now she has been awarded ‘Padma Shri’ for her seminal contribution pic.twitter.com/BmgXxyOg3X
— Abhinav Prakash (@Abhina_Prakash) January 26, 2020
The narrative and arguments presented in her books are largely aligned with the views of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the most resounding one being that Lord Rama was born in Ayodhya.
Earlier, the government of India nominated Meenakshi as a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research in December 2014.
One of the 12 Padma Award winners from Odisha this year, Binapani Mohanty is a celebrated literary figure. Her illustrious career as fiction author in Odia began in 1960 when she published her first book Gotie Ratira Kahani.
Honoured to meet & congratulate eminent Odia litterateur Dr Binapani Mohanty recently conferred with the #PadmaShriAward .
ଆଜି ପଦ୍ମଶ୍ରୀ ଉପାଧିରେ ସମ୍ମାନିତ ଓଡ଼ିଆ ସାହିତ୍ୟର ପ୍ରଖ୍ୟାତ ଲେଖିକା ଡ଼ ବୀଣାପାଣି ମହାନ୍ତି ଙ୍କୁ ତାଙ୍କ କଟକସ୍ଥିତ ବାସଭବନରେ ଭେଟି ତାଙ୍କୁ ଅଭିନନ୍ଦନ ଜଣେଇ ନିଜକୁ ଧନ୍ୟ ମନେକରୁଛି । pic.twitter.com/dlDnmNhKBg
— Lekha Samantsinghar (@DrLekhaShree) January 26, 2020
In 1990, Binapani received the Sahitya Akademi Award for her short stories collection Pata Dei. Some of her best loved stories include Khela Ghara, Naiku Rasta, Bastraharana, Andhakarara, Kasturi Murga O Sabuja Aranya, among others.
Vidushi Jayalakshmi KS
Journalist couple Vidushi Jayalakshmi KS and her husband Sampath Kumar were honoured with the Padma Shri for their lifelong efforts towards running Sanskrit newspaper Sudharma.
Founded on July 15, 1970, by Sampath’s late father Kalale Nadadur Varadaraja Iyengar who was a renown Sanskrit scholar, Sudharma is the only Sanskrit language newspaper in India today. It is sold for Rs 1.50 per copy and the annual subscription costs Rs 500.
Based in Mysore, the couple write and edit the two-page daily. The first page contains news while the second page is dedicated to feature stories. Vidushi has a master’s in Sanskrit.