Honouring the ‘Laadlis’

Vyarawalla, Sitara Devi and Sindhutai are recipients of this year’s ‘Laadli’ awards.

Namrata Bhingarde

What is common among Homai Vyarawalla, Sitara Devi and Sindhutai Sapkal? While Vyarawalla is India’s first woman press photographer, Sitara Devi is a famous Kathak exponent and Sindhutai is a renowned social worker in Maharashtra. Besides being women, another important common factor among them is total devotion to their work that has made them ‘Laadlis’ of the nation.

‘Laadli’ in Hindi means a beloved girl child. And to show affection to these beloved girls, who are being killed in the womb, Population First, an NGO working against sex detection of girl child, presented special awards to the respected women who have dedicated their lives to master the profession they have chosen.

Vyarawalla, Sitara Devi and Sindhutai are recipients of this year’s special ‘Laadli’ award.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan presented the awards to the three at a function organized in Mumbai recently. Population First’s media awards for writings and stories on gender sensitivity in press and TV were also presented at the function.

92- year-old Vyarawalla was awarded The Laadli of The Century award, for her excellent 35 years’ career as a photojournalist. She has captured the India’s journey from the ‘Raj’ era to that of a developing country. Fluctuations in Indian politics got freezed in her ‘Third eye’. She began clicking in late 1930s and engraved on her camera roll portraits of many freedom fighters, politicians like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and witnessed many historic events.

In her down the memory lane narration, Vyarawalla recalled how she chose to become a photojournalist when a girl was not even allowed to study till matriculation. She never played with another girl as she was the only female in her class. She was all praise for her parents for allowing her to do what she wanted to. Her parents’ attitude was a contrast to the present day attitude when parents are killing their girl child in the womb. Vyarawalla expressed serious concern over the decreasing ratio of girl child. Astonished by her talent and her lifetime achievement everyone in the audience gave her a standing ovation.

Sitara Devi was the recipient of Lifetime Achievement Award in performing arts. Sitara Devi was recognized for her contribution to making classical dance forms respectable in the society. She shared with the audience her struggle to become a great dancer. It was her father who recognized her talent and interest in dancing when she used to dance in her room. None less than a great personality like Rabindranath Tagore described her as ‘Nritya Samragini’ (The Queen of Dance) after watching her performance when she was in her teens.

While Vyarawalla and Sitara Devi are known figures, particularly in the elite class, it was a relatively unknown figure at the national level and in elite class, Sindhutai Sapkal, wearing a typical Maharashtrian nine-yard saree, with a pallu draped around her head, was the third Laadli of the evening rewarded with Lifetime Achievement award in Social Service. After realizing how the orphan kids need love and support, Sindhutai picked up her ‘daughters and sons’ from railway platforms and streets. As of 1998 Sindhutai had given support to about 1,050 orphaned children. The audience was amazed to know that each of those child bears Sindhutai’s name in place of their father’s name. Sindhutai recited some verses of Sant Gadgebaba and Sant Tukdoji Maharaj to explain her struggle and her thinking towards the orphans. Till date she has been honoured with 272 awards, but for her the real award is the word ‘Mai’ used by every child she has adopted, to call her.

At this moment programme host Pooja Bedi added that we would have never had Vyarawalla, Sitara Devi or Sindhutai on this platform if in those old days sex determination test would have been available.

These awards have been instituted as a part of Population First’s campaign for protection of girl child – Laadli. The media awards acknowledge the role of media in focusing and directing attention to gender injustice, violence and inequality in society which are at the root of the prevalent practice of sex selective abortions. Many media personnel also received awards for the excellent stories covered and presented by them, which include women trafficking, abortion rates, health of urban woman etc.

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