Chennaiite gets highest women’s award

By Swedha Radhakrishnan Published on Mar 13, 2018 04:29 PM IST

Sheela Balaji receiving the Nari Shakti Puruaskar award 2017 from President Kovind in International Women's day in Delhi.

Chennai: Sheela Balaji, chairperson and managing trustee of AIM for Seva and Swami Dayananda Educational Trust, received the Nari Shakti Puraskar 2017 award for her outstanding contribution to women’s empowerment from President Ram Nath Kovind on the occasion of International Women’s Day at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi.

Since 2001 she has been actively working to empower and create opportunities for rural communities to realise their full potential and become contributing members of society.


Nari Shakti Puraskar award is given by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, it will be given by the President of India on International Women's Day. The highest civilian award for women, it was first award given in 2015. The award is given in six categories by selecting 30-36 women. The selection is based on outstanding contribution to women empowerment and community development.


This award is given in the field of education, community development and sustainable living through AIM for Seva, Swami Dayananda Educational Trust and making available organic heritage rice. This award is specifically for efforts to grow and bring heritage rice to the people.


Sheela Balaji chairs three major projects, AIM for Seva, Swami Dayananda Educational Trust and Spirit of the Earth. AIM for Seva is for education. ‘We have a concept like free student hostel as in children living in rural villages are brought from the villages. We build free hostels for them so that they need not walk miles reach to schools or colleges,’ said the award winner.

Swami Dayananda Educational Trust is a project for a small village, Manjakkudi in Kumbakonam. There is no electricity in the village and not much education. Sheela adopted the village to develop it. Now the village has schools, college, electricity and it has become a better place to live in.

"While working at Manjakkudi, I saw that the Cauvery delta had large green fields. This raised a thought - why can't we grow rice in the area? So, I started learning about rice and came to know about heritage rice, which was once grown in India. There are multiple health benefits through it and it is also very good for pregnant women. Many experiments on rice have been a great success and still some are under experimentation," she said.


"We have 40 acres in Manjakkudi, where the stress is on rice. We educate the farmer and give them targets. They should achieve this much of yield. In the last four years, we have organised a festival called Nel Thiruvizha. All farmers are brought together and we teach them farming. Because, unless you educate farmers they won't know about organic farming and still use pesticides and chemicals that ruin the soil. It won't be beneficial in the future," explains Sheela.

1) Kalajeera: Prince of Rice is an aromatic variety. Originating from Odisha. Looks like coriander seeds.

Health benefits:

* Increases haemoglobin levels and body metabolism

* Improves memory

* Controls diabetes

2) Chak Hao Poreiton (Raw): Black rice is known as Chak Hao Poreiton in Manipur. Turns deep purple when cooked.

Health benefits:

* Disease-fighting antioxidant

* Prevents diabetes, cancer, heart disease

3) Kichili Champa (Raw): Kichili Champa also called ‘Chitti Muthyalu’ (small pearls). Fine and a long grain rice variety, Used to prepare pulao and biryani

Health benefits:

* Relatively low glycemic index of 50

* Prevents diabetes

4) Mapillai Champa (Raw): Given to the Mapillai (bridegroom) the night before the wedding.

Health benefits:

* Cures mouth ulcers

* Increases haemoglobin count, helps fight cancer

* Prevents diabetes

5) Poongkar (Raw): Red-coloured rice, also called ‘Women’s Rice. Recommended during pregnancy for it helps in lactation.

Health benefits:

* Boosts immunity, especially during pregnancy

* Maintains hormonal balance

* Strengthens bones