Kolkata, July 29 (IANS) With Mahasweta Devi’s death, the world has lost a renowned writer-activist, but for the Lodhas and Sabars – two primitive tribal groups from West Bengal – they have lost their mother, an unrelenting voice that championed their cause for the last four decades.
Mahasweta, who had deep respect for tribal life and culture and penned telling commentaries on the sufferings and oppression of tribals, crusaded for the Lodhas of the erstwhile Midnapur district and the Kheria Sabars of Purulia — who were among those notified by the British in 1871 as “criminals”.
Though these tribes were denotified after independence, the stigma remained and they faced trouble whenever crimes were committed in their vicinity.
Assembled under the banner of “Lodha Sabar Kalyan Samiti”, the members of the twin communities came down to city to pay their last respects to the Magsaysay awardee who was cremated with full state honours on the day.
“It is because of her efforts that the world came to know about us. She continuously through her writings highlighted our plight. She had always fought for our cause, and today it feels that somebody has taken away the roof from above our heads,” said one of them.
“She had freed us from darkness… We have lost our mother,” said Jaladhar Sabar, echoing the sentiments of his community in Purulia where Mahasweta Devi later came to be revered as “The Mother of the Sabars”.
Mingling with the tribals and sharing their food and huts, Mahasweta vividly portrayed the sufferings the tribals endured at the hands of upper-caste landlords, money-lenders and government servants, and chronicled the stories of tribal resistance and protests.
Among her many creations on tribal issues is “The Book of the Hunter” (first published in Bengali as “Byadhkhanda” in 1994), which deals with the story of Chuni Kotal, who in 1985 became the first woman graduate among the Lodha Shabars but subsequently committed suicide after facing harassment and discrimination.
“She used to mix with us as if she was one of them. We have lost out mother.
“Now who will speak for us? She was our guide, our guardian, she has been fighting for us since 1978, now who will fight for us,” said another member of the community wiping his tears.
Carrying copies of letters Mahasweta had written to various authorities highlighting the plight of the twin tribes, the Lodhas and Sabars walked in silence, accompanying the author on her last journey.