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Old January 26th, 2002, 09:24 AM
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Sitara Devi turns down Padma Bhushan, demands Bharat Ratna

A day after coveted Padma awards were announced, controversy erupted with renowned danseuse Sitara Devi refusing to accept Padma Bhushan award. "It is my insult and not an honour," an anguished Kathak exponent said today.

"I will not accept any award less than Bharat Ratna," the artiste in her late seventies said reacting to honour bestowed upon her by the government.

"Little known people, who are younger to me have received Padma Vibhushan and I am being awarded Padma Bhushan," she said and asked "is this the way to treat a leading artiste".

The dancer, who took to Kathak at the age of seven under the tutelage of her illustrious father Sukhdev Maharaj, was described as "Kathak queen" by Guru Rabindranath Tagore at the age of 16.

Sitara Devi said a pat from the Nobel laureate was "the highest award in my dancing career".

"Four generations of our family have devoted their lives for the sake of this art and helped Kathak attain prestige in society," Sitara Devi said. She recounted that her father was banished from the society for promoting Kathak, which till then was not acknowledged by the people as a form of art.

"Is this government not aware of my contribution to Kathak," Sitara Devi, who enthralled the audiences for hours at a stretch in her prime, questioned. "I will convey to the government that I will not accept the Padma Bhushan," Sitara, who still imparts training in the classical dance form to budding artistes, said.

"Getting an award is nothing new for me. I have been honoured with "Nritya Nipuna" by the then President R Venkatraman, Kalidas Samman and Padma Shri", she said. To a query whether she will reconsider her decision, Sitara Devi firmly ruled out accepting the award saying "nothing short of Bharat Ratna will do now".

The danseuse said she was not jealous of others getting Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan but certainly expected proper honour for herself from the government
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