Boxer Mangte Chungjeijang Mary Kom of Manipur leads the list of 15 Padma awardees from the northeast followed by former Nagaland Chief Minister S.C. Jamir, once the bete noire of the extremist National Socialist Council of Nagaland.
Olympic medallist and the only woman to become World Amateur Boxing champion six times, Ms Kom is among seven to be named for the Padma Vibhushan while Mr. Jamir is among 17 on the Padma Bhushan list.
But the buzz in the northeast has been around 13 Padma Shri awardees — five from Assam, two each from Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram and one each from Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Tripura.
Home away from home
Two of the awardees who made the region their home, are from south India. Oncologist Ravi Kannan is from Chennai and heads a cancer hospital in southern Assam’s Silchar while social worker Sathyanarayanan Mundayoor, popularly know as ‘Uncle Sir’, who fuelled a book-reading revolution in Arunachal Pradesh, is from Kerala.
“When I came to teach at a Vivekananda Kendra school here, people found it difficult to pronounce my name. Children started calling me Uncle Moosa and it stuck. Many call me Uncle Sir too,” said Mr. Mundayoor, who opened the Bamboosa Library in Lohit district headquarters Tezu in 2007 and encouraged the locals to set up “book repositories” in villages.
Around the same time that year, Dr. Kannan joined the Cachar Cancer Hospital after quitting the non-profit Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai. Under his stewardship, the Assam hospital has expanded from 25 to 100 beds besides regularly organising home visits and satellite clinics to take cancer care to remote villages.
“I never imagined I would be spending so many years and make Assam my home,” Dr Kannan told newspersons in Silchar some time ago.
The other Padma Shri winners from Assam include Indira P.P. Bora, who played a key role in taking Sattriya dance out of the confines of satras, or Vaishnavite monasteries, to the world beyond which led to the Sangeet Natak Akademi recognising it as one of India’s classical dance forms two decades ago.
The others from Assam are Kushal Konwar Sarma, a veterinarian who has earned the moniker ‘Haathi (elephant) Doctor” for his expertise on pachyderms, Assamese writer and educationist Jogendra Nath Phukan, and Lil Bahadur Chettri, a Nepali writer whose novel Bassain (Mountains Painted with Turmeric) was turned into an Oscar-nominated film.
Growing turmeric of the unique, high-curcumin Lakadong variety earned the Padma Shri for Meghalaya’s Trinity Saioo. A teacher, she has mobilised more than 800 women to grow this tuber sustainably in the Jaintia Hills.
“My teaching experience helped add science and pest management to the traditional but low-yielding way of growing the Lakadong turmeric, which is high on demand,” she said.
Apart from Ms. Kom, two sportspersons from the northeast — archer Tarundeep Rai of Sikkim and footballer Oinam Bembem Devi of Manipur — were conferred Padma Shri.
Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi of Arunachal Pradesh, C. Kamlova and Lalbiakthanga Pachuau of Mizoram and Benichandra Jamatia of Tripura were conferred the award for literature and education.