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They constitute India's future perfect. On January 26, they will parade on caparisoned elephants before cheering crowds and millions of admiring countrymen watching them on TV.

Every year the nation honours young bravehearts who risk their lives to protect others. This time it's their turn.

Nineteen children -- five girls and 14 boys -- have been selected for this honour, the National Bravery Award.

Among India's trophies on parade -- the imposing tanks, missiles and marching contingents of the armed forces -- making the country equally or even more proud will be these children.

A day before the parade, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will give away the awards. President A P J Abdul Kalam will later host a reception in their honour.

The idea for what became a tradition was born when India's first prime minister, Jawaharal Nehru, was watching a performance at Delhi's Ramlila grounds on October 2, 1957. A fire broke out in a shamiana (decorated tent) sparked by a short circuit. A 14-year-old boy -- who was part of the student's scout team -- took out his knife, ripped apart the burning shamiana and saved the people in it. Inspired by this, Nehru asked the authorities to honour such brave children from all over the country every year.

Since then, 669 children -- 488 boys and 181 girls -- have been awarded the prestigious prize. A panel constituted by Indian Council for Child Welfare selects the awardees.

There are also special awards for extraordinary courage. The special bravery awards include the Geeta Chopra Award and the Sanjay Chopra Award (instituted in 1978 in memory of the Chopra children, who died battling their kidnappers); the Bharat Award (instituted in 1987; considered the highest honour) and the Bapu Gayadhani Award (1988).

This year, the Geeta Chopra Award has gone to 14-year-old girl Boya Geethanjali of Ananthapuram village in Andhra Pradesh for fighting naxalites.

Harry Chaudhry, 13, from Delhi is the winner of the Sanjay Chopra Award. The Bapu Gayadhani Award has been given to three children -- N Kandha Kumar (posthumous), Mazda and Lalthanzawna.

rediff.com tells you the story and ambition of some of these kids...

Text: Ehtasham Khan; Photographs: Dijeshwar Singh/Saab Press     

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