Date:28/12/2006 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2006/12/28/stories/2006122801000300.htm
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Cheers for the deserving!

The brave and the sturdy got their due at the Godfrey Phillips Bravery National Award function the other day. RANA SIDDIQUI reports

PHOTO: PTI

REMEMBER HIM Kuldeep Singh receiving the gold medal for Physical Bravery while Preity Zinta looks on.

For once, media abstained from rushing to celebrities for quotable quotes. Or may be, thankfully, the event and its stars were much larger than any film celebrity media often chooses to chase. The event was Godfrey Phillips Bravery National Awards - 2006 and its heroes were 32 brave people from 16 States across India. Chosen among 1600 others, these valiant ones belonged to 14 to 65 years of age.

And the celebrity was Preity Zinta. She was a perfect choice as a brand ambassador for the award as she herself received Godfrey's Mind of Steel Award in 2002 for speaking her mind in Bharat Shah's prosecution case. She received threatening calls from the underworld for Shah's film Chori Chori Chupke Chupke. Zinta is the first film personality to support the prosecution in Shah's case in Maharashtra court. Earlier, all the witnesses including Shah Rukh and Salman Khan turned hostile. Godfrey Phillips initiated Mind of Steel award and made Zinta its first recipient.

Befitting ambience

This event was organised at Taj Palace Hotel this past week where the ambience was created with remarkable set design. While two gigantic torches dominated its two sides, patriotic music played at the backdrop. Anchor Shammi Narang with his baritone and impromptu speech edged with apt `ashar' on bravery and courage left a spell on the audience in the jam-packed hall.

While the awards, gold, silver and bronze were given in two categories, Physical Bravery and Social Act of Courage, this time they also included Mind of Steel and Social Life Time Achievement Award. Meira Kumar, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, and Parliamentarian Sandeep Dikshit gave away the awards.

In the evening that began with the National Anthem, Kerala's 55-year-old Sudha `Cycle Sister' Verghese received the Social Life Time Award for trying to connect the people of the Musahar community of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh with the national mainstream. Sabrina Lal, Jessica Lal's sister, `Waterman' Rajendra Singh, Captain Indraani Singh (the initiator of Literacy India concept) and (late) Manjunath of Indian Oil Corporation who gave up life to fight for the consumer interests received Mind of Steel Award. This time they had chose two Gold Medallists for Physical Bravery. The DTC bus driver Kuldeep Singh and 16-year-old Pravati Bahera of Orissa, who saved 10 children from drowning in Nuagarh village, got these medals. While Hoti Lal, a 15-year-old physically challenged boy from U.P, saved a 10-year-old girl from drowning in Yamuna received the silver medal. Young girl Majda from Hardwar saved seven children from drowning, and got Bronze.

One of the most interesting men among many brave hearts was 50-year-old Mahadev, a resident of Karnataka who received the highest award in Social Act of Courage category. He ferries unclaimed dead bodies from mortuaries to cremation ground free of cost and buries them respectfully by spending money from his own pocket. So far, he has ferried 42,000 bodies. And among women most interesting, 70-yearold, unlettered Saalumarada Thimmkka from village Halikal, 70 km from Bangalore received the silver medal in the same category. To fight her loneliness and childlessness, she planted saplings that have now turned into 284 Banyan trees in her village. She has planted 400 more saplings on the four-kilometre stretch now. While Sophia Sheikh of Bhadrak district who has been a crusader for tortured and destitute women including one who was kept confined for seven years by her in-laws and husband, also received the silver medal. Delhi's NGO for welfare of mentally challenged children, Muskaan received the bronze.

According to K.K. Modi, Chairman, Godfrey Phillips, the company spends around Rs.12 to14 crore per year for these awards that were initiated 15 years ago.

Two years ago its name was changed from Red and White Bravery Award in response to protests from various quarters about surrogate advertising for Red and White cigarette brand.

On this emotionally charged evening, for once, the media didn't run after Zinta for sound bytes. For once, real heroes were the stars.

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