The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Refusal question mark on awards
Thapar: Firm refusal

New Delhi, Jan. 28: Sitar maestro Vilayat Khan, kathak dancer Sitara Devi, billiards ace Michael Ferreira, litterateur Kanak Sen Deka, historian Romila Thapar' the list of people refusing to accept the Padma awards is getting longer by the year.

Thapar and Deka refused to respectively accept the Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri this year, setting tongues wagging on how significant the state awards really are, who decides who gets them and whether they are conferred in any order of merit.

Thapar declined to accept the award saying she had made a decision some years ago to accept awards only from academic institutions or those associated with her professional work.

In a letter to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, she said it was 'a purely personal decision and does not reflect on other recipients of state awards'.

Deka, the president of the Asom Sahitya Sabha, said accepting the Padma Shri ' the lowest among the three, including Padma Bhushan and the highest Padma Vibhushan ' would take away from the prestige of the titles and awards conferred on him so far.

In a communication to the government, the owner-editor of a leading Assamese daily said: 'After receiving the Sambad Surya, Sambad Jyoti and Sambad Mukut in recognition of my long service to society, accepting the Padma Shri would have lowered the prestige of those awards.'

It would also have done an injustice to the position of the sahitya sabha president, Deka said.

Academics have generally declined to react to their decisions, saying the refusals were not a comment on the nature of the award. But many in the past have turned them down, saying they were not conferred according to merit or in any order of priority.

When Vilayat Khan turned down the Padma Vibhushan in 2001, his grouse was he had been picked for it far too long after many others had already been given the honour.

Sitara Devi's reason ' in 2002 ' was that 'little known people' had been awarded the Padma Vibhushan but she had been considered only for the Padma Bhushan.

As for Ferreira, he refused the Padma Shri way back in 1982 on the ground that his 'achievements in billiards were no less than Sunil Gavaskar's in cricket'. So how come he was getting the Padma Shri and Gavaskar the Padma Bhushan'

Amiya Bagchi has been awarded the Padma Shri this year while fellow economist Mrinal Dutta Chaudhuri has been given the Padma Bhushan.

So, who decides who gets what, and if bureaucrats are the decision-makers, how significant really are the awards'

On people refusing awards, Bagchi said: 'I don't answer such questions. Have you heard from anywhere that I have refused an award' But he added: 'I respect Romila and her choice.'

Eminent sociologist Andre Beteille, who was also awarded the Padma Bhushan, said Thapar's was a personal decision and the matter should end there.

Thapar herself expressed surprise that the government had decided to go ahead with the award despite of her communication to the HRD ministry three months ago. In 1992, too, she had declined to accept the Padma Bhushan on similar grounds. 'I do feel that the views of the individual should be respected,' she said.

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