Hirabaiben who worked for uplifting Siddi tribe women turns emotional at Padma awards

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 23-03-2023
Hirabaiben Ibrahimbhai Lobi addressing Prime Minister
Hirabaiben Ibrahimbhai Lobi addressing Prime Minister


New Delhi

“Mere pyaare Narendra bhai, aapne hamari jholi khushiyon se bhar dee- kisi ne hamare par dhyan nahi diya aur na hamari taraf dekha…. Jab aapne hamari taraf dekha, aap hamein aage laaye to aaj sab dekh rahe hain.” (MY dear Narendra bhai, you filled my lap with happiness. No one paid attention to us; none looked at us...when you looked at us, you brought us out of oblivion. Today everyone is seeing us.”

This is how an emotional Hirabaiben Ibrahimbhai Lobi, a social worker from Gujarat who has worked all her life for the upliftment of the Siddi tribal community, said at the ceremonial function at Rashtrapati Bhawan where she along with 106 others received the Padma award from President Draupadi Mumu.

While being escorted to the podium for receiving the award, Hirabaiben, 70, stopped to speak with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and turned emotional. She stretched her dupatta in the expression of her sentiments as she came near the front row where Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, and several union ministers were seated.’

Hirabaiben Ibrahimbhai Lobi, in her village

While the hall resonated with applause, Modi was seen bowing his head to this barefoot social worker of the Siddis, an Afro-Indian community rated among the most backward tribal community in Gujarat.

This was one of the most touching moments from the Padma awards ceremony

Lobi, who is President of Adivasi Mahila Sangh also known as Siddi Woman's Federation, stood there for about 50 seconds and conveyed her sentiments. She meant that while she worked on the empowerment of women and her community, her work was never acknowledged.

As she walked to receive the award, Lobi placed both her hands on the shoulders of President Murmu as a gesture of conveying her blessings.

Hirabaiben had lost her parents at an early age and she was raised by her grandparents. Lobi provides education to children of the Siddi community through many balwadis founded by her. Her Mahila Vikas Mandals she has empowered women of her community to attain financial freedom.

Padma awards are seen to have become "people's awards" under the Modi government with a distinct thrust to give recognition to grassroots social warriors.

Siddi community accounts for 98 percent of the population of Jambur, a village in the Gir region of Gujarat. Siddis are African tribals who were brought to India as slaves for the ruler of Junagadh around 400 years ago.

Hirabaiben Ibrahimbhai Lobi, receiving her Padma Shri from President

From a young age, Hirabaiben spearheaded a silent revolution in 18 Saurashtra villages. Her initiatives include a cooperative movement, family planning, and a small savings club for the Siddis.

The women cooperatives also sell the trademark Siddis vermicompost. The women’s cooperatives also provide loans and raise awareness about health problems. She has also helped in setting up a community school for the Siddis.

Hirbaiben has received several honours and awards. In 2001, she was awarded the Samman Patra by Gujarat Agriculture University in Junagadh and again in 2007 and 2012.

She also got the Women's World Summit Foundation's Prize for Women's Creativity in Rural Living' in 2002 and 'Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar for Outstanding Woman Rural Entrepreneur in 2006:

She has donated her prize money to children's schooling and the empowerment of Siddi women.

Under the Modi government, there is an effort to move away from the "VIP and VVIP culture" and achievers from the most remote part of the country have been honoured with Padma awards.

Hirabaiben Ibrahimbhai Lobi, in Rashtrapati Bhawan

Amongst the common citizens who have been honoured this year is 98-year-old Tula Ram Upreti, a small farmer from Sikkim. He has been conferred with Padma Shri for being a role model in organic farming over the past 70 years.

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Retired Army doctor Munishwar Chanddawar (77), who treats his patients at a meager fee of Rs20 in his native Madhya Pradesh, has also been honoured with the Padma award this year. A 1971 veteran, he has been practicing medicine in Jabalpur for over five decades.