by Vivek Kumar Srivastava
Frontier | 01 August, 2016
Mahasweta Devi leaves for the eternal world. To know and to imbibe the great thoughts of an intellectual who is writer, activist, a philosopher in own style, a humanist is a privilege of everyone’s life because such mortals are rare; clusters of their values enrich the social world and they turn immortal. Mahasweta Devi is esteemed member of this fraternity. Very few are writers and activist together, in western world Harold Laski, T H Green, Karl Marx don this role, in India none is so much influential except Mahasweta Devi, hence her place is unique and imposing for the generations to follow.
She went to write not in any genre but for a class which was not only deprived of the basic amenities but also the most neglected one. She had analyzed the core conflict among the tribals which revolved around the neglect and non recognition by the mainstream India. She sadly narrated ‘although they (tribals) fought bravely against the British, they have not been treated as part of India’s freedom struggle. A tribal girl asked me modestly, When we go to school, we read about Mahatma Gandhi. Did we have no heroes? Did we always suffer like this? That is why I started writing about the tribal movements and the tribal heroes. Of course I am involved with them, but it had to be written. I repay them their honor. They want to feel proud that they are tribals.’ So her writings are not for self satisfaction but for placing the neglected lot in the mainstream platform where their due was appropriated by the elites.
Palamu was focal point of her writing and activism. This place is note worthy as it propelled her to evolve as an activist and author in one with a moral purpose, such fusion is rare in the contemporary literary world. She was analytical when she defined the fusion of activism with the literary works. She was highly perturbed by the exploitation of tribal women, fellows and their life; and she went to tell their world. She depicted Palamu experience as a life turning event; she said ‘I started writing about Palamu. I also started getting bonded laborers organized, in 1979, the government of India had supposedly liberated a handful of bonded laborers in Seora village on top of a hill. And, had given them land on paper only. What land? Land on top of the hills, no water level, where nothing could grow. And the people who kept them as bonded slaves were low echelon government officials themselves. It was through their hands that the government gave money to rehabilitate these people. Naturally nothing reached the tribals. They were in desperation. They said: “We will not go back to bondage again.” On a broken mud wall of Seora village I wrote with a piece of chalk: Palamu District Bonded Labor Liberation Organization. The next year, for the first time in the heart of Palamu, in its head town of Daltonganj, bonded laborers came in the thousands. I led a procession through the streets of Palamu: we went to the District Commissioner. The women led the procession, shouting slogans: “Bonded System Must End.” Thus was born writer Mahasweta Devi as an activist for a cause.
She had experiences of the romantic world which had passed to her from the studies of the English literature; she also cemented her ideas about the lives of the deprived people when she went through the classics; which found expression in new form of writing in which true human bonds were eternal bases of the life. For Mahasweta Devi the love, affection and trust were as important as the life itself. This was the lasting edifice on which she constructed her real and literary world. The fiction was not a fiction but a world of reality but only given the proper structures and arrangements. She remarked in conversation with eminent intellectual Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak who introduced and translated the book of lasting value ‘Imaginary Maps’, ‘that All over India I have said to people, if you want to rehabilitate a denotified tribe, just giving some money to a broker is not enough. You have to go there, you have to love and trust them. Once you give trust, they give you back trust.’ She was teaching the world how to live and how to create the world of trust and a life of interdependence.
Her journalistic orientation was fused with her activism and literary writings. She is authoress of several literary works but she is equally prominent and respected for her journalistic writings. The writing for the well established papers and journals was an integral part of her social activism. She had shared this thought to public, ‘I’ve been doing this for many years. I write these days for Frontier (Calcutta-based), and even for Economic and Political Weekly [national circulation], and I have been doing a regular column contribution to Bengali dailies since 1982. Wherever there is exploitation. I report it immediately.’ She raised the voices of depressed, if justice was denied to them, she wrote in incessant manner, for these reasons her writings are treasure and light house to sleeping humanity.
Mahasweta Devi had deep concerns for the environment and forests and stated in clear terms ‘all over the world governments protecting the environment is nonsense. Thus through Mary Oraon I have narrated events that are true of India today. I consider myself an Indian writer, not a Bengali writer. I am proud of this.’ This was her nationalistic approach but she lived at the micro level, the level where the problems abound and none is there to help. Mahasweta Devi picks their sad cries and weaves in narratives which will survive till the eternity. This is not her world but world of all.
She reminds us every moment that ‘tribals want to stay in the place which they know as their own. They want the respect that they hold for their dead ancestors. Whatever has come in the name of development has spelled disaster for the tribes. And they do not know how to dishonor others. Our double task is to resist “development” actively and to learn to love.’ Will this civilization listen to her? Mahasweta Devi lives in every true human being and she will survive in generations as she is part of the humanity and a torch bearer of great human values.
Dr. Vivek Kumar Srivastava is Assistant Professor, CSJM Kanpur University (affiliated College), Vice Chairman CSSP, Consultant CRIEPS.