90-year old veteran singer Sandhya Mukherjee, also known as Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, on Tuesday refused an offer of a Padma Shri award saying it is more deserving of a junior artiste and not someone of her stature. She is the second person from West Bengal to refuse a civilian honour. Former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had on Tuesday turned down the Padma Bhushan. He said that he was not aware that he had been named for it, and he would reject it if it were so.
Ms Mukherjee’s daughter Soumi Sengupta said that her mother told the senior official who called from Delhi that she was not willing to be named as a Padma Shri recipient and felt “insulted” at her being offered the award at her age. She was contacted seeking her consent to be named a Padma Shri in the Republic Day awards list.
While the former West Bengal chief minister’s refusal of the award is political – he has been a vocal critic of the BJP government – Ms Sengupta says her mother’s decision has nothing to do with politics.
A recipient turning down India’s top civilian honours is extremely rare. They are required to confirm acceptance before the announcement.
Film writer Salim Khan had said he had refused to accept a Padma Shri in 2015. Before him, historian Romila Thapar had refused a Padma Bhushan in 2005, having returned her 1974 award in 1984 over the siege of the Golden Temple by the Indian Army.
Author Khushwant Singh had also returned his 1974 Padma Bhushan in 1984 over the same issue but he accepted the Padma Vibhushan in 2007.
“At the age of 90, with a singing career spanning over about eight decades, being chosen for Padma Shri is demeaning for a singer of her stature,” Ms Sengupta said.
Padma Shri, awarded for “distinguished service”, is the fourth highest civilian honour in the country after Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan.
“Padma Shri is more deserving for a junior artiste, not ‘Gitasree’ Sandhya Mukhopadhyay. Her family and all the lovers of her songs feel,” the daughter said.
The singer considered for long a prima donna of music in Bengal has also sung for a number of Hindi movie music directors including S D Burman, Anil Biswas, Madan Mohan, Roshan and Salil Choudhary.
Ms Mukherjee received the “Banga Bibhushan”, West Bengal’s highest civilian award, in 2011 – the year it was instituted by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, and a National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer in 1970.