While India mourned the deaths of Dilip Kumar and political leader KR Gouri Amma, the unexpected death of photojournalist Danish Siddiqui and actors Puneeth Rajkumar and Sidharth Shukla came as a shock.

Collage of Gouri Amma, Puneeth Rajkumar, Vivek and Stan Swamy
news Deaths Thursday, December 23, 2021 - 16:40

It will take all of us time to process 2021. We collectively faced the worst COVID-19 surge this year, losing many loved ones to the deadly wave of infections. The country also lost many of its promising and inspiring personalities across fields — politics, human rights, activism, environment, entertainment, and sports, among others. TNM is reminiscing some of these persons who lost their lives — some shocking and unexpected deaths — this year.  

Actor Vivek (November 1961 - April 17)

Vivek’s death came as a shock to the south Indian film industry as he succumbed to a massive cardiac arrest. He was 59. Easily among the top comedians in the Tamil film industry, Vivek, over the years, perfected his own brand of humour, which came with social messaging. His comedy in films like Kushi, Minnale, Alaipayuthey, Mugavaree, Dum Dum Dum, Sivaji and several others, have extremely high recall value. He has acted with actors across generations, from Rajinikanth and Meena to Madhavan, Ajith, Vijay and Jyothika. After his passing, several rumours about the COVID-19 vaccine being the cause of Vivek’s death spread. In September 2021, the National Committee on Serious Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) said that Vivek’s death was not related to the Covaxin shot. 

Rohit Sardana (September 1979 - April 30):

Among the top Hindi anchors in India, Rohit Sardana is said to have contracted COVID-19 and it was unclear whether he had fully recovered or not. On April 30, 2021, he succumbed to a heart attack. The journalist was with Zee news for several years, before he joined AajTak in 2017. His popular show 'Dangal,' featured debate panels but had also been controversial for its rhetoric. He was awarded the Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi Puraskar by the Indian government in 2018.

KR Gouri Amma (July 1919 - May 2021)

On May 7, one of the tallest leaders in Kerala politics, KR Gouri Amma, passed away. Gouri Amma was widely hailed as the Chief Minister that Kerala never got. At the time of her death, she was 101 years old. A pioneer who fought many odds, her life and her political career stand unparalleled in the history of the state. She was the first woman lawyer from the Ezhava community, categorised as Other Backward Class (OBC), in the state. She was a member of the communist party before the split in 1964. After the split, she decided to join the CPI(M). She was the longest-serving MLA of the state after KM Mani, the late patriarch of the Kerala Congress(M).

Sunderlal Bahuguna (January 1927 - May 2021)

Sunderlal Bahuguna was among the most famous environmentalists that India has produced. He was 94 when he succumbed to COVID-19, on May 11. For decades, Sunderlal Bahuguna fought for forests to be preserved, especially in the Himalayas. He started environmental activism as part of the ‘Chipko’ movement in the 1970s, which turned out to be among the earliest eco-feminist movements in India as the majority of the protesters were women. Later, he spearheaded the anti-Tehri Dam movement, which started in the 1980s and continued till early 2004. For his efforts, Bahuguna was conferred with the Padma Vibhushan in 2009, and was honoured with many awards, including the Right Livelihood Award (the Alternate Nobel) and Jamnalal Bajaj Award, among others.

Milkha Singh (November 1929 - June 2021)

India’s ‘Flying Sikh’ died of COVID-19 related complications on June 18. Aged 91, Milkha Singh is one of India’s greatest athletes. He had won India four Asian gold medals and finished fourth in the 400m final at the 1960 Rome Olympics. The veteran athlete’s track and field conquests are part of India’s urban legend. He won India its first Commonwealth Gold Medal in 1958. Out of the 80 international races that he has participated in, Milkha Singh has won 77. He won five gold medals in the international athletic championships and was awarded the Helms World Trophy in 1959.

Stan Swamy (April 1937 - July 2021)

The death of Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest and a human rights activist, on July 5, triggered global outrage against the ruling BJP government in India. The 84-year-old human rights defender and tribal rights activist is the oldest person to be named an accused in the Elgar Parishad case. He was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in October 2020 under the draconian UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and kept in the Taloja Central Jail in Mumbai. Stan Swamy, who had Parkinson’s disease, was denied bail for eight months, and was also denied a straw to sip water while in prison. In July, Fr Stan Swamy was shifted to a private hospital in Mumbai. He later tested positive for coronavirus. Many activists have blamed the BJP government for Stan Swamy’s death, with some calling it a case of “judicial murder."

Dilip Kumar (December 1922 - July 2021)

Legendary Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar passed away on July 7 at the age of 98. He was hospitalised multiple times due to prolonged illness. Dileep Kumar has marked his name in the history of Indian cinema as one of Bollywood’s greatest actors. He perfected the brooding hero role in movies such as Devdas (1955) and Mughal -E-Azam (1960). The actor, whose original name was Muhammad Yusuf Khan, is also regarded as the first ‘Khan superstar” of Bollywood. In his 50-year-old career, he has worked with actors across generations. He is survived by his wife and actor Saira Banu.

Danish Siddiqui (May 1983 - July 2021)

The death of Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddique, on July 16, came as a shock to India’s media fraternity. A 38-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner, Danish Siddiqui had a long and illustrious career ahead of him. He was heading Reuter’s multi-media team in India. At the time of his death, he was covering an Afghan Special Forces clash with the Taliban in Kandahar, and was embedded with the Afghan forces that was attacked by the Taliban. Three days before his death, Danish had shared a Twitter thread on his reportage in Kandahar. He also shared visuals of the Taliban attacking the car in which he was travelling. Danish’s work on the COVID-19 pandemic in India, where he extensively covered the hospitals, graveyards and mass cremations, was widely appreciated across the globe.

Sidharth Shukla (December 1980 - September 2021)

Another sudden death that shocked the Hindi film and TV fraternity was Sidharth Shukla. The TV star died at the age of 40, on September 2, after a suspected heart attack. After winning Bigg Boss Season 13, Sidharth Shukla went on to become a household name. In 2012, Sidharth Shukla shot to the limelight with the show Balika Vadu. He played the role of District Collector Shivraj Shekhar in the TV series and received a great response for his performance. He went on to bag multiple awards for the role and soon landed a role in the 2014 film, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, alongside Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt.

Puneeth Rajkumar (March 1975 - October 2021)

Yet another death that shook the south Indian film fraternity this year was the sudden passing of Kannada star Puneeth Rajkumar on October 29. He was only 46 years old. He suffered a massive heart attack while at the gym and was rushed to a private hospital in Bengaluru after he complained of chest pain. Popularly called Power Star and lovingly called Appu, Puneeth was easily the biggest contemporary star in the Kannada film industry. Superstars like Rajinikanth, Chiranjeevi, Radhika Sarathkumar, Khushbu Sundar and Mohanlal, among others, mourned his death.

Vinod Dua (March 1954 - December 2021)

Senior journalist Vinod Dua passed away at the age of 67 on December 4. He had contracted COVID-19 and was battling for his life in the ICU in New Delhi. Earlier in 2021, he had also lost his wife and radiologist Padmavati ‘Chinna’ Dua to COVID-19. Vinod Dua was regarded as an important figure in Indian broadcast journalism. He worked with Doordarshan and NDTV, and won the Ramnath Goenka Award in 1996, becoming the first electronic media journalist to win the accolade. He also won the Padma Shri in 2008 for his journalism. However, in 2018, he was embroiled in controversy after filmmaker Nishtha Jain accused him of sexually harassing her 30 years ago, alleging that he passed “lewd” comments at her. The couple is survived by their daughters, actor-comedian Mallika Dua and clinical psychologist Bakul Dua. 

Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat (March 1958 - December 2021)

India’s first Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat died in a chopper crash near Coonoor on December 8. His wife Madhulika Rawat and 12 others died in the Indian Army Force (IAF) helicopter crash. Before becoming India’s first CDS, Bipin Rawat served as India’s Chief of Army Staff. The 63-year-old military veteran specialised in high-altitude warfare and counter-insurgency operations. 

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