Padma Sri at 92 – Prabhaben Shah

For her selfless and immense hard work, 92 years old Prabhaben Shah from Daman was awarded Padma Shri in January 2022.

When Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement in 1942, Prabhaben Shah from Daman was 12.  Prabhaben was associated with Bardoli’s Swaraj Ashram from an early age. She had taken a vow to contribute to the freedom struggle. In a symbolic gesture to boycott foreign goods, she slept on a jute sack for nearly six months.

Even after Independence, Prabhaben continued her contributions to society after India. She went on to work in various social sectors like education, women empowerment, health, natural disaster relief operations and during the wars with neighboring countries. Although she retired in the late 1990s, she continues guiding the new generation and giving her input in various matters.

For her selfless and immense hard work, she was awarded Padma Shri in January 2022.

“I am very proud and moved to receive the prestigious award for my services. This award, however, is not just mine. It belongs to every individual who believed in me and encouraged me to perform the services. I thank my late husband, Subhash, for letting me pursue my passion in a society which was a far cry from gender equality,” Prabhaben said while she was talking to The Better India.

In the 1960s when her children had no school to get their education from, Prabhaben started a Bal Mandir (primary school) of her own. At first, she taught herself in this school and later hired teachers. She started working in a Khadi Ashram as a clerk to fund the school and salaries of teachers.

In 1963, they had transferred to Daman and Prabhaben started a Mahila Mandal and opened a school through them. Forming a group for women was not an easy task in that period when women were hardly allowed to step out of their houses. First, the meetings were held at Prabhaben’s house. Prabhaben educated them on basic education and healthcare. With the help of crowdfunding channels, the Mahila Mandal established two English and Gujarati medium schools each.  As more women joined the Mahila Mandal Prabhaben started small scale businesses for the women to work in and make a living.

Along with helping women, this organization tried to help people in need. They opened a vegetarian canteen in a government hospital for patients’ relatives in 1965. Between 1965 and 1971, Mahila Mandal had been very active in raising donations for soldiers and martyr’s families.

Over the years, Prabhaben has worked on several issues and improved the lives of many individuals.  These range from children to women. Her zeal and drive are what make her an award-winning social activist.

-Poorna Krishnan

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