With her bangles, anklets and traditional necklace, she could easily pass for a tribal woman. Daya Bai lives with tribes, shares their views, talks about their issues and takes up cudgels against the authorities seeking justice for those who were denied it for long.
She was in the city in connection with a programme organised by the Yuvajana Kshema Board.
Born into an upper middle class Christian family in Pala as Mercy Mathew, the journey to Daya Bai was a long one. Daya Bai, now over 70 years, donned the nun’s habit when she was barely out of her teens. But, as she says, she felt the need to be out of the habit or an institution to be of better service to the poor.
She found her home in a village named Barul in Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh, after spending years of service at refugee camps in Kolkata and Bangladesh. In between finding her mission in life and her home, she also enrolled for a law degree and completed Masters in social sciences.
She spoke the language of the Gonds, looked like one and surprised bureaucrats and village authorities who played truant. They were stumped to find that this “tribal woman” knew what she was talking about. Without the backing of an NGO or a political outfit, Daya Bai found her struggle an uphill task.
Her persistence had led to a few changes but the authorities and politicians were always trying to belittle her achievement, she pointed out.
Daya Bai has also played a significant role in retrieving missing or abducted girls and fought against atrocities on women.