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The Indian Express exclusive: Padma Shri Janath,Padma Shri Janah – same man ‘honoured’ twice

A well-known photographer of the Nehruvian era is victim of a government goof-up.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
January 28, 2012 1:59:41 am

Just when announcement of this year’s Padma awards appeared to have passed off without a controversy,here comes a goof-up. Sunil Janah,a well-known photographer of the Nehruvian era who was awarded the Padma Shri this year,was a recipient of the same honour exactly four decades ago.

Janah was awared the Padma Shri in 1972 by the Indira Gandhi government. The oversight could be because of the fact that his surname was then spelt ‘Janath’ and his domicile was shown as Delhi,whereas he was born in Assam. This time his domicile is shown as Assam.

The 94-year-old photographer’s family,well-wishers and friends are upset. “This is so peculiar of the government of India. They gave him an award and forgot about him. Now,all of a sudden it occurred to them that he should be awarded again. And they throw at him the same Padma Shri again as if it is doing him some great favour or charity. This is very insulting,” Janah’s wife Shobha told The Indian Express.

Sources said Janah’s name was recommended by the culture ministry,though it had reportedly sought a higher Padma for him. He is yet to be officially informed about the award. “They haven’t informed or apologised,” Shobha said.

A communist who shot to prominence chronicling people’s struggles against colonialism in the pre-Independence days and the emergence of independent India after 1947,Janah now stays in Berkeley,California. Mostly confined to a wheelchair,the celebrated photographer has ironically lost his vision. His photographs on the Bengal famine had made him famous overnight.

Ram Rahman,the noted artist-activist who has curated Janah’s works,said he had submitted his biography to the award committee but was “taken aback” when he learnt that he was given the Padma Shri again.

Culture Secretary Jawhar Sircar said the ministry could not disclose the names of candidates who it had recommended for the Padma awards but added that the ministry had high regard for Janah.

Shobha still remembers the day Janah collected his first Padma Shri. “I even remember that the President could not pin the medal and one of the aides had come to the rescue,” Shobha said.

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