The other day, I went to attend a gathering where fifteen youth icons were selected from our state, here in India, Meghalaya. The whole show, as well as the concept originated from Avenues, a Shillong base institution, specializing in communication skills. Right from the beginning this concept was very endearing, as the entire idea was to choose "Unsung Heroes", people who have motivated the youth, shaped societies, worked in a silent manner, but with passion, oblivious of rewards and recognition. I was inducted as a jury member, and from the beginning the task was daunting, as the emphasis was on "Unsung People".
There were quite a few "Sung Heroes", but what about the lesser known, who had made a visible impact? How were they going to be identified.
Meghalaya, is a tiny state, but apart from Shillong, the district headquarters are semi urban, or semi rural. Garo Hills which lies in a far flung corner of the state, has to be entered through Assam, and Guwahati, on the other side as it were, of the border. Jaintia Hills is on the way to the Cachar district of Assam, which borders Mizoram. Initially the names that we were gathering had a Shillong bias. Among the seven panel members, we had a journalist, an ex politician, and a Vice Chancellor. There was also a well known columnist and a recipient of the Padma Shree. They helped in garnering names from different parts of the state and after that the research bureau of the organizers got more information on the 200 names that were initially shortlisted for categories such as Performance Arts, Visual Arts, Education, Educational Administration, Advocacy, Citizen Journalism, Sports, Art and Culture, Media, Social Work, etc. After that there were a further screening into about seven to eight names per category, then shortlisting to three and finally zeroing down to one.
What was more exciting was that there was an overall award for the Achiever of the Year which was decided by public polling. An individual could send upto five SMS to an allocated mobile number or phone number. Again here the top five were short listed and there was the final phase of voting. The point is that recognition of people working silently is a must, because recognition is not an end in itself but gives a further boost to individuals to carry there work to unreached areas. In addition to the categories mentioned above there were category on eco-tourism, conservation and entrepreneurship.
There was also a category for a group in the area of performing arts and music. This being a music obsessed state, this category turned out to be a popular one. In the process of selection, names of some individuals might have been left out and there could have been a duplication of the already recognized people but the jury in its discretion took final decisions. There were at least six rounds of meetings and interaction via emails among the jury and the organizers.
The organizers had more to do. They had to interview the nominees, and find more details about their lives and work which were documented and which enabled the jury to arrive at decisions. This meant a lot of travel for the organizers which was not easy, considering that some of the areas of the state are politically disturbed. So, among the choices we had one winner given posthumously who was recognized for his indelible contribution to visual arts and who was responsible for influencing a body of the youth of the state in that direction.
We also had an educator working compassionately among school children and street children for decades. Then we had a person who has upheld the rights of the differently abled and advocated the cause of inclusive education.
Hopefully this is just a beginning. Talent and hard work must also be showcased and recognized especially to people working against all odds. In this context, there was an awardee who has been fighting for the rights of the addicts without any moral or financial support. Her contribution was duly acknowledged. Awards at times could have ulterior motives. But being on the panel I can honestly say that the whole process was not only fair but a learning experience for many. The organizers that is Avenues must be given full credit for setting standards and making people look beyond the self.