In her later years, her feet bandaged thickly in white, Mrunal Gore was a familiar sight in Goregaon west, the leafy Mumbai suburb, where she lived most of her life. But people will remember her more for her feisty battles for water even before she was elected corporator in 1961, and her noisy “rolling pin” anti-price-rise marches, where women protested by beating rolling pins against steel plates. Born in 1928, Gore set aside a career in medicine inspired by the Rashtra Seva Dal, and later left it to form the Socialist Party. She married Keshav Gore in 1948, an inter-caste marriage, and had a daughter. The couple were committed to social justice, and also became part of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. Keshav passed away in 1958, and after that Mrunaltai continued his social work under the Keshav Gore Smarak Trust.
She was elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly on the Socialist Party ticket in 1972, and later on in 1985 on the Janata Party ticket. She also made it to Parliament with a huge number of votes after the elections were held post-Emergency, where she was forced to go underground before her arrest. Mrunaltai related to the common person and her empathy for women’s issues and problems gave her a huge following. Since the 1950s, she, along with Tara Reddy of the Communist Party of India and Ahilya Rangnekar of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) formed a striking triumvirate who fought on the side of the people, at a time when few women were seen in public life. In 1983, Mrunaltai founded Swadhar which worked with women who were victims of violence and provided counselling and legal help. As an MLA, she moved a private member’s bill to ban sex-selective abortions, and her speech was one of the best in the Assembly. “After that, most MLAs accepted the fact that female foeticide had to be banned,” recalls R. P. Ravindra, social activist. Mrunaltai played a big role in the State government, moving a ban against sex-selective abortions in 1986.
Much of the issues she engaged with in her youth remained with her till the end. She fought the price rise fiercely, championed women’s issues, and was a firm believer in reservation for women in political life, as also low-cost housing. She was a source of inspiration and guidance to Medha Patkar in the heyday of the anti-Narmada dam movement and Ms. Patkar remembers her role with gratitude. She even visited the fasting Ms. Patkar at Ferkuva on the Gujarat border, in what was a watershed event of the anti-dam movement. Talking to The Hindu, Ms. Patkar said that for Mrunaltai, the personal was political. “She was emotionally committed to everything, and she was a gem of a person, she stood with us all the time and she was so moved by the plight of the tribals.”
Ms. Patkar also recalled her skills as a mediator who could achieve what she wanted without compromising on anything.” She had great love for people, passion for causes, and a level of commitment that few had. The kind of value-based politics she promoted is no more. She was our heroine,” Ms. Patkar added. She had called Mrunaltai last on her birthday on June 24, and her mother is Mrunaltai’s classmate and very close friend.
Despite her ill-health — she survived breast cancer and suffered from diabetes for 25 years — Mrunaltai displayed a keen interest in current affairs, and even sustained a visit from her foe, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, just before the municipal corporation elections in Mumbai. She attended a gathering of all anti-Narmada dam activists in May in Mumbai, and was active till the end. Mrunaltai was the last of the old warhorses to whom common people could turn to, in a city where so many of the things she fought for remain elusive till today to the ordinary citizen. She will be remembered as the “paaniwali bai” in her trademark white sari with a dark border, and her infinite charm and dignity will forever grace her memory.