The latest recipient of the Kalpana Chawla Award for Courage and Daring Enterprise is a woman in her 40s, who dared to break societal norms and earn her livelihood as an operator in an electric crematorium - a place hardly frequented by women folk.
A resident of Senthamangalam, 40-year-old Jayanthi took up the job of burning bodies at the Namakkal electric crematorium, not paying heed to the raised eyebrows her decision prompted.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha awarded Jayanthi with the honour on 15 August during the Independence Day celebrations, lauding her courage and resilience in the face of resistance, making her mark in a field women are shunned from usually. The award includes a cash prize of Rs 5 lakh, a gold medal and a certificate.
It was in the aftermath of her father's demise in 2003, that Jayanthi realised women have little room to make any contribution to the rituals that follow. "We were all sisters, and we had to plead with our male cousins to help us observe certain rituals after my father's death. I then realised the need to be independent," she was quoted to have said in a Hindu report.
"I thought, why shouldn't I take that up? It's the work that matters. I didn't mind people talking behind my back. I'm happy people now look up to me as an inspiration," she added.
The fact that her husband is on board with her, backing her on her decision, is a major impetus for the mother of twin daughters. "I'm a Brahmin and married a Gounder. Our wedding faced so much criticism. But my father supported me. Initially, my husband didn't like the idea, but he too came around," she told the Hindu.