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Vol. XXXI No. 12, October 1-15, 2021

‘En Chennai Young Chennai’ Awards

by Nivedita Louis

Madras Day has always been about heritage, history, walks and talks. When The Idea Factory wanted to celebrate Chennai this year, they wanted to do something ‘out of the box’. Joining hands with Brand Blitz and associated with Viveks, Naga Foods Savorit and Equitas, TIF hit upon the idea of celebrating the city on the day of its inception. Instead of focusing on the city’s architecture and landmarks, they decided to honour the people who stood up for the city when it needed them. We all love our Chennai, no doubt. Yet, there are unsung heroes who are fighting the good fight to keep alive the “spirit of Chennai”. A Chennai Anthem En Chennai Young Chennai Anthem – Ennoda Chennai was produced by TIF and Brand Blitz as a tribute to these warriors and their spirit. A Britto Michael musical, the anthem was sung by Antony Dasan, Alka Ajith and Stony Psyko. The lyrics were penned by Nishant Raju. As a run up to the main award event, clubhouse meetings were held featuring Britto, Nishant, Antony Dasan, Chef Damu and Vallidasan.

As for the awardees, I was part of the jurist panel along with media consultants Vallidasan JM, Chutti Ganesan and Sahana. We got to work quickly enough, looking around to identify the dynamic warriors of our city. We finalized the different heads under which awards would be given after much deliberation. This being the maiden year of the awards, we had no precedent to follow and worked on the framework from scratch. The nomination list saw multiple changes along the way and we were finally able to pick ten people and organizations that fit the award criteria. Chennai is not new to calamities – natural or man-made. Disasters have helped us bond together and fight back with resilience. The spirit of Chennai is this resilience and who else better than our young blood to be felicitated? The award was rightly named Young Chennai, for we decided to award people under 40 who had done exceptional work in the last 10 years. We wanted to motivate more such youngsters to come forward and lend their indomitable fighting spirit to the cause of our city.

Lake restoration, blood and plasma donation, mobile libraries, awareness creation, lone women warriors, rural warriors – our list had them all. At Connect, an initiative by Asha Bhagyaraj and Anita Raj, won the nomination for Group Magic Award. Through this initiative, a group of about 11,000 people joined hands via social media platforms and helped admit 2,000 covid in various hospitals across the state, providing support by arranging for oxygen cylinders, ventilators and ICU beds as required. Further, this group started by Asha and Anita has supported students with fee payments and also provided remarkable service during the Chennai floods in 2015.

Aware, an NGO founded by Sandhiyan in 2013 won the Awareness Creator Award. The organization has been steadily working towards creating awareness about the safety of women, children as well as the queer community, who are among the most vulnerable in the city. Starting work at Chemmanchery and Nochikuppam, the organization expanded its work rapidly by working through social media and offline meetings and workshops. The public spaces safety audit it conducted in the city, especially the public transport system, has helped the government in conducting awareness sessions for drivers and conductors. The ‘safety pledge’ Aware had instituted was taken by the staff, pledging their support to women, children and queer people in need while travelling. Regular workshops on gender, feminism, sexual awareness, menstrual hygiene and other topics are conducted by Aware in many parts of the city.

The winner of the Rural Warrior Award was Gokula Rao, who spent 14 long years fighting a legal battle, with the Court finally directing ‘correct’ compensation to the rightful owners of land taken by the Government in Villupuram district. He fought the crusade with little help and the landowners had almost lost hope. The landmark judgement of this case will be relied upon in many other such cases in the days to come. He has also provided support to more than 2,400 people during Covid. Karthik, who won the Reading Ambassador award, works together with multiple NGOs including No Food Waste, Youth For Seva, Environmentalist Foundation of India, Lit the Light and Arappor. He had started Dulkal – a library project that reaches out to children in Government schools of hill areas and remote areas. Dulkal has opened libraries in 3 government schools – one in a tribal area – and 75 mobile libraries. His NGO had painted awareness art in 25 government schools and public spaces.

The winner of the Eco Warrior Award Karthik Imayavaramban founded Aatrupadai, an NGO aimed at lake restoration and cleaning. He brought together 2,000 volunteers to clean and restore Porur Lake to its old glory. Aatrupadai stands in the forefront of restoring water bodies in the city. His Kavipom initiative’s Open Mics have identified and brought talents to the forefront. Meena Sathiyamoorthy has been rightly named for the Woman of Worth Award. Putting her life at stake, she has been volunteering at the Kilpauk GH for more than 500 days without rest. She has supported covid patients and also helped bury those who died uncared for. As someone with a difficult personal life, she has been saving lives in the pandemic despite the odds stacked against her. She received the CM’s award for bravery in the recently concluded Independence Day celebrations.

No Food Waste was given the Annapurna Award for collecting food about to be wasted and reaching it to those in need. Arun Kumar, who takes care of the Chennai Chapter of NFW works together with Madras Corporation and Food Safety Department. The volunteers have been gifted a van with which they collect food from IPL match ground canteens and wedding halls, which they then repack for distribution to the needy. They ensure that the food they collect is untouched and fresh before sending it out for distribution. The Platelet Club founded by Srivatsa Vema was handed the Life Saving Leader Award for the noble work it does in the city. The group motivates volunteers to donate blood and plasma for patients in many hospitals around Chennai. They have saved around 1,500 lives, especially those of children with cancer. Shakira Banu was given the Social Super Woman Award. A lone warrior who works all by herself, Shakira has helped people of Chennai during the floods, supported children in paying their fees and also dug borewells in 5 places including at the Hanumanthapuram government school. She has opened a small education center in the Kelambakkam camp area to support children with their education. Despite being briefly struck down by the coronavirus, she is back on her feet arranging beds, blood, oxygen cylinders and ventilators for those in need.

The Trans Community Kitchen was awarded the Changemakers Award for their stellar work during the lockdown. Bringing transpeople together, activist Srijith Sundaram had set up two kitchens in Porur and Ernavur. The team collected funds and cooked with their heart and soul to provide food to those in need around the city. They drove around in in PPE suits, reaching healthy meals to street dwellers, people working in graveyards, cemeteries and people waiting around government hospitals. Many have been fed by the transpeople whom the society shuns as ‘the others’.

The awards were presented by Suresh Sambandam, State Planning Commission Committee for industrial transformation in TN, convenor of Dream Tamilnadu and CEO of KissFlow; Mafoi K Pandiyarajan, former Minister of Tamil Language and Culture & Director of CIEL – HR Services; renowned culinary expert & Guinness world record holder Dr. Chef Dhamu; and social activist and founder of G-Mime studio, Mime Gopi.

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