Kolkata, July 29 (IANS) An indefatigable crusader for tribal rights, eminent litterateur Mahasweta Devi was keen to be laid to rest at Tejgadh, a tribal village in Gujarat and also the site of the Adivasi Academy, says noted literary critic, linguist and tribal rights activist Ganesh Devy who wishes to bring some of her ashes to the academy that is dedicated to the writer.
Mahasweta Devi died at a Kolkata nursing home on Thursday following prolonged old-age complications. She was 90.
“I will visit Kolkata 10 days from now to carry some of her ashes to the Adivasi Academy. It is dedicated to her. She was keen on taking rest there (Tejgadh),” Devy told IANS on Thursday over the phone from Dharwad in Karnataka.
The Adivasi Academy, located in Tejgadh, 90 km east of Vadodara, is the signature project of Bhasha Research and Publication Centre. The Bhasha Centre was established in 1996 as a public trust for conservation and study of adivasi languages and culture.
Devy, a Padma Shri recipient and one of the founders of Bhasha, was associated with Mahasweta Devi for 12 years from 1998 to 2010. He last met the author in March this year in Kolkata.
“She used to visit Baroda (now Vadodara) 10 days every month and we travelled together in this country a distance of three lakh km. We built up a movement, the Denotified and Nomadic Tribes Rights Action Group (DNT-RAG),” reminisced Devy, who was earlier based out of Vadodara.
In 1978, Mahasweta championed the cause of two tribal groups in West Bengal — 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.
Simultaneously, she lent her weight to the tribal struggles in various other states including Gujarat.
In Gujarat, Devy and the Ramon Magsaysay awardee established the ‘Chharanagar Library’ in 1998 as a centre for community development for the Chhara tribe.
“One day both of us went to that place (Chharanagar) and set up a small library and after that the local boys and girls took it upon themselves to create a theatre (the Budhan Theatre). She inspired that,” said Devy.
The theatre takes its name from Budhan Sabar, a tribal man who was labeled a criminal, targeted, and murdered by the police in Bengal.
The local boys and girls composed a play on the life and death of Budhan and performed it before the author during the first national convention of the DNTs held in Chharanagar in 1998.
Describing her as a “phenomenal person”, Devy, a Sahitya Akademi awardee, said he had a “good idea” about Mahasweta when he first met her in 1998.
“What struck me was her absolute simplicity, there was no show at all… her intensity which made her impatient with snobbery of any kind. She was bone tired… as she used to say (of) snobbery in Kolkata (then Calcutta).
“It was not difficult for her to snub somebody off if that person was becoming hyprocritical or snobbish. She had a very great compassion for people who suffer,” remembered Devy, adding her legacy needs to be kept alive by continuing the fight for tribal justice.
“Mahasweta was Mahasweta. There’s nobody close to be compared with her,” added Devy.
(Sahana Ghosh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)