Mrinal Gore: A Life of Crusade

Mrinal Gore Obituary

With passing away of Mrinal Gore, an era of idealism, struggles against injustice and selfless social service ends

By Vibhuti Patel

Women’s rights activist and veteran socialist leader, who combined her crusade for social justice and distributive justice for more than five decades, passed away on 17th July, 2012 in Mumbai.

Hundreds of women and men from different walks of life – social and political workers, women’s rights activists, trade unionists, teachers, nurses, and community workers, for whose causes and day to day survival struggles she had strived for all her life, participated in the funeral procession.

Even powerful politicians whom she had campaigned against during the anti price rise movement had nothing but words of admiration and appreciation for her simple, transparent, spartan life and unflinching dedication to her mission of serving the poor and the marginalised sections of society.

She brought the issue of safe drinking water centre stage during 1960s. In 1964, she stormed into the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) office and tore up the ballot papers after 11 people were killed in water riots in the slums. The municipal law that did not permit water connections to the slums was rectified. She is remembered by three generations of Mumbaikars as the “Paaniwali Bai” (a woman who got the water).

It was Mrinaltai i.e. “an elder sister” (as she was popularly addressed), who as an MLA in 1972, moved a resolution for the Slum Improvement Act (till then there was only the Slum Eradication Act). That landmark resolution was debated from 11.00 a.m. to 6 a.m. the next day before being passed. Mrinaltai used to tell us, “For the first time the assembly worked night and day,”

Mrinaltai and her husband Keshav Gore had impeccable socialist credentials. Jayaprakash Narayan was a witness at their wedding. After the death of Keshavji at a young age in 1958, Mrinaltai immortalised him by not only founding the Keshav Gore Trust but also making it an epicenter of all progressive, socialist and social movement activities, programmes and gatherings. Local, state level and national level progressive thinking stalwarts and change makers from different spheres-politics, tribal arts, writers, literature, feminists and environmentalists thronged the Trust.

Mrinaltai was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India movement as a young medical student. She gave up a promising career in medicine to plunge full time into organising the poor and the marginalised. For more than half a century and till her death, she had been involved with a series of organisations and leading protests both on the streets and in the corridors of power, focusing on women’s rights, dalit rights and civil rights such as water, housing, sanitation, education and health services, environmental concerns, communal harmony and trade union activities. Through camps, workshops, cultural programmes of Rashtriya Seva Dal, she groomed thousands of young minds to serve the society.

She was a woman of vision, ideas and praxis and a gifted and electrifying orator. At the same time she was warm and hospitable. She followed an open door policy, listened to everyone patiently and adopted best practices wherever she noticed. She is one public figure whom I never saw basking in the past glory. Instead she was eager to learn from the youngsters. Her speeches served as tonic to young activists like us in the 1970s and 1980s. My association with her began in 1972 when she visited Vadodara to do her homework to launch the campaign against price rise, black marketing and hoarding of essential goods by traders and ration shop owners.

In 1972, Gore contested the Maharashtra Assembly elections on the Socialist Party ticket and won with the highest margin in the state. As a firebrand MLA, she took up issues such as atrocities on marginal farmers, Dalits, tribal people and women. She always did her homework carefully and commissioned research, organized study circles, developed a library and documentation centre, prepared charts and exhibition for public education.

After the prices of essential commodities began skyrocketing, in September 1972, Gore was at the forefront in setting up the Anti-Price Rise Committee which mobilized the largest-ever turnout of women since the Independence movement.

During the Emergency rule, she was arrested and shifted from one jail to the other for 18 months and was kept in the prison cell along with murderers, lunatics and hardcore criminals. Once released in 1977, Mrinaltai was elected to Parliament on Janata Party ticket with the central slogan “Democracy versus dictatorship”. In 1985, she became an MLA again and took up the issue of banning sex determination tests in the legislative assembly resulting in Maharashtra being the first state in India to pass the Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act in 1988. During her hectic days as MLA, she would call me and Ravindra R.P. at 7 a.m. to discuss position of Forum Against Sex Selection on technical aspects of amniocentesis, Chorionic Villus biopsy and sex pre selection techniques. She always made flawless and full proof statements as a public figure.

She also led protests against the entry of US giant Enron in the power sector, fought against slum demolition and supported people displaced by the Narmada Dam and slum eviction drive of Bombay Municipal Corporation.

The demise of this veteran leader and champion of people’s struggles has created massive void in the social movements and struggles for human rights.

Vibhuti Patel is active in the women’s movement in India since 1972 and currently teaching at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.

7 comments

  1. Manisha Gupte says:

    A fitting tribute to an extraordinary woman. Thanks, Vibuti. All of us who have interacted with Mrinal tai express our deepest gratitude for her work and life. I have observed her closely as a growing up child in Socialist Party conferences as well as in close social circles, and then, later as a feminist sister and trailblazer throughout. I still remember the slogan we used during the election campaign that resulted in the defeat of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the Emergency: Paaniwali Dilli mein – Dilliwali Pani mein !

    Mrinal tai visited MASUM a few years ago and spent an entire day with our rural colleagues. Her ready smiles and affectionate behaviour in spite of her sharp political commentary, and her humility and simplicity in spite of her illustrious political career make her a truly exemplary and endearing role-model. She lives on, especially through her tireless commitment to the people residing in the slums of Mumbai city, and her empathy with women struggling to survive through sky-rocketing prices of household commodities. Zindabad, Comrade Mrinal tai !

  2. Ammu Abraham says:

    your memorial to Mrinaltai brings a lump to my throat, Vibhuti. I remember her with affection. As one of the activists in Mumbai who met her at various meetings at the office near Mantralay, I interacted with her quite a lot, on March 8th leaflets, Women’s Commission and other campaigns. While there was a lot of common ground between us, we did not always agree entirely on issues, but she was never one to take that personally. One of the most generous spirits associated with the women’s movement in Mumbai and Maharashtra has passed away. Hard to say goodbye.

  3. N. Jayaram says:

    Have a lump in my throat as I write this:
    I can’t thank you enough for your having posted this thoughtful tribute to a fine human who’d fallen off the news radar a longwhile ago.
    THANK YOU

  4. Lakshmi Lingam says:

    Mrinaltai is a truly powerful inspiring woman. She came across as a person with determination in thought and tenderness in the heart. She spoke in feminist meetings whether it is the sex determination tests, violence against women, 73rd & 74th amendments, women’s policies of the Govt or the support for working women, with so much of clarity and sense of humor. She truly represented to many of us a person who had the ability to straddle the old and the new and reach across generations with since of sisterhood and modesty. I did not have any personal rapport with her, but met her in various meetings and shared a hand shake or a glance of acknowledgement. These are impressions that will stay with us for a life time and also provide a beacon as to how we conduct ourselves with fellow sister travelers in the movement. Long live Mrinaltai and her like!

  5. sadhana dadhich says:

    Vibhuti
    thanks politicians of her kind are beyond imagination for many young indians
    And that special smile of hers was so reassuering

  6. Lionel Fernandes says:

    A TOUCHING TRIBUTE TO A GREAT SOUL…WE NEED SUCH ROLE MODELS DESPERATELY TODAY….LONG LIVE HER MEMORY AND LEGACY!

  7. Lalita Ramdas says:

    Thanks
    Vibhuti for this eloquent and comprehensive tribute to a truly outstanding person. Mrinal Tai epitomised a generation of feminists who were able to mobilise around an extraordinary range of social and political issues, and thus command attention in mainstream debates. As women and feminists we need to be far more vocal and visible in the public, and political domains and dialogues than we are today.

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