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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 June, 2004, 18:32 GMT 19:32 UK
Feted for bravery but facing penury
By Alok Prakash Putul in Chhattisgarh

When Nemchand Nirmalkar picked up a national bravery award for rescuing a four-year-old girl who had fallen down a 10-metre well, he thought the recognition would help him realise his dream of becoming a soldier.

Nemchand: 'The bravery medal... turned out to be worthless.'

After all, the prestigious national award came with the promise of a free college education, a scholarship and a monthly allowance.

Three years after he received the award, these promises have come to nothing and the young boy is no closer to his dream.

In fact, Nemchand failed his high school examinations last year after his parents - impoverished day labourers - could not cough up the money needed to buy his books.

Now Nemchand has joined his parents at work to raise money and finish school.

This year, he studied hard and got top marks in his class, but the future still seems uncertain.

"The bravery medal and the certificate have really turned out to be worthless for me," Nemchand told BBC Hindi Online.

Tragic end

Nemchand is not alone amongst the winners of the widely publicised award, set up by the Indian government to highlight extraordinary acts of bravery.

Chhattisgarh, the northern Indian state where Nemchand lives, has at least 23 children who have received the award so far.

He could not complete school and had to start working. Then he went away looking for work to Gujarat. He comes home occasionally
Kuwriya, mother of award-winner

Most of them are poor and still struggle to continue their studies.

Some recipients, like 13-year-old Trilochan, saved others' lives, only to meet a tragic end themselves.

Trilochan rescued his young brother from the clutches of a leopard.

His presence of mind even enabled him to trap the marauding animal inside a room in the family home.

But after winning the award, he went on to die of jaundice after receiving almost no treatment for the disease.

His parents simply could not afford the medication.

Financial pressure

Others like Duman Lal Sahoo, who received his award from former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi gave up hopes of studying.

Chuneswari has to mind the house after her parents go to work

He won a medal and 3,000 rupees ($70) in 1983 after boldly rescuing his little sister from a blaze.

Duman failed to finish his education and now does menial work in Surat in the western state of Gujarat.

"He could not complete school and had to start working. Then he went away looking for work to Gujarat. He comes home occasionally," says his teary-eyed mother Kuwriya.

Lilchand Halwa, a resident of Dehan, was not even as lucky as Duman: he never received the 3,000 rupees attached to the award.

He dropped out of school and now does minor, lowly-paid work.

One bravery award winner last year was seven-year-old Chuneshwari Kothlia.

Washing dishes at the family home, she said she would like to complete her schooling, but financial pressure was forcing was her to reconsider.

A Delhi-based organisation had promised Chuneshwari financial help to complete her studies, but she has yet to receive any.

State concern

There are a few exceptions though.

Award recipients Lalita Gada and Vidya Kumari Yadav completed their studies thanks to assistance from their school and other people.

Govind Chandrakar, a resident of Arang, is one of a handful of success stories: the bravery award winner became an engineer.

Another winner, Honey Rathore from Raygarh, went on to become a doctor.

Chhattisgarh's women and children's development minister, Renuka Singh, says the state government was concerned about the pitiful state of the winners of the national bravery award.

"We are going to institute a state award for brave children. We will make sure that the children who receive this award are well looked after and their future is taken care of."

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