Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India) is the highest civilian award of the Republic of India. Instituted on 2 January 1954, the award is conferred “in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order”, without distinction of race, occupation, position, or sex. The award was originally limited to achievements in the arts, literature, science and public services but the government expanded the criteria to include “any field of human endeavour” in December 2011.
The Bharat Ratna, along with other personal civil honours, was briefly suspended from July 1977 to January 1980 during the change in the national government and for a second time from August 1992 to December 1995 when several public-interest litigations challenged the constitutional validity of the awards. In 1992, the government’s decision to confer the award posthumously on Subhash Chandra Bose met with controversy. Due to the debate surrounding Bose’s death, the “posthumous” mention of Bose was much criticised, and his family refused to accept the award. Following a 1997 Supreme Court decision, the press communiqué announcing Bose’s award was cancelled; it is the only time when the award was announced but not conferred.