It’s Women’s Day today, and I feel it’s the right opportunity to share a story worth reading about the Indian social activist Daya Bai and, of course, worth learning. Every woman goes through a lot of struggles and hardships in their ways. There are various phases in a woman’s life, and every stage is different yet beautiful. She is a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister, and many more. We have seen many women breaking the barriers and finding a place for themselves.
Can you imagine struggling in your life and still taking care of society? The answer is no. The majority of the people are so involved in their lives that they do not even bother what is going around. Today, we will be talking about an inspiring woman, Mercy Mathew, who was named Daya Bai because of her acts towards the poor people.
Who is Daya Bai?
Daya Bai (originally Mercy Mathew) is a social activist from Kerala working for tribals’ upliftment in central India. At present, she lives in Barul village of Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh. She hails from a prosperous Christian family in Pala, Kerala. She led a happy and harmonious childhood life, and she had a strong faith in God made her overcome all the struggles.
How Mercy became Daya Bai?
Daya Bai’s brother George Platt says he is the closest among the siblings to Daya Bai, and they share a special bond. He says, “I was in Class III when she decided to join the convent, and she visited our school to distribute toffees to all the students before leaving because no one from our place had gone that far to work in a convent before. That’s my earliest memory of her. Even when she decided to leave behind the convent and instead work as a social worker, there were no big issues at home. But in our place, women who left the convent and were ousted from the convent are called Madamchadi, in a derogative sense, and are considered a burden on their family. This fear and her desire to work in Madhya Pradesh villages forced her not to return. Her name Mercy got translated to Daya, and Bai was added as a sign of respect. Because of this name, many never realized that she is a Keralite until now,” he adds.
Referring to the incident, he adds, “Though I wasn’t a witness, I can guess what happened. She isn’t very familiar with places in Kerala; she hasn’t lived here much. The organizers must have told her, ‘Get down at Garage stop after the Bypass stop,’ and she would have asked the conductor to inform her when the Bypass stop comes. It’s possible the conductor mistook her as wanting to get down at Bypass and got angry when she didn’t. Daya Bai is not one to keep quiet in an argument either, and it might have led to a quarrel.”
This incident where Daya Bai faced verbal abuse on a KSRTC bus, leading to the suspension of two KSRTC employees, has been the talk of the town for some time. Apart from the apparent discussions about the incident itself, it also spotlights Daya Bai, introducing her to many of the youngsters in Kerala.
Glimpse on Daya Bai’s social work
Leaving Pala at the age of 16 to become a nun, she later gave up her habit of working for the tribal population in India’s midlands. Her inspiring speeches in a language that reaches out to her audience, her satyagrahas and campaigns to press local authorities to open schools, and her efforts to empower almost forgotten villages in interior and tribal Madhya Pradesh emphasize how Daya Bai has improved the life of the tribals.
She had been associated with Narmada Bachao Andolan and the Chengara agitation, apart from her solo struggles representing the forest dwellers and villagers in Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and West Bengal. She had also lent her services to the common folk in Bangladesh during the war there. Daya Bai, who practices the theology of liberation, has settled down among the Gonds of Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh. She had set up a school in the Barul village. Whenever Daya Bai goes, she can help the village people, and this mission continues from one town to another town.