Mrinal Gore ‘Paaniwali Bai’ A pioneer and visionary
Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India exhortation as a youngster, Mrinal Gore (born 1928) chucked in a promising career in medicine to devote herself to organizing the poor and the disenfranchised. For more than half a century, she has been involved with a series of organizations and leading protests both on the streets and in the corridors of power, focusing on women’s rights, civil rights, communal harmony, and trade union activities. She was fortunate to have had extremely enlightened parents: her father was a professor of physics at Mumbai’s Elphinstone College, and her mother came from a family of intellectuals. Of her six other siblings, three went on to become doctors and two engineers … It is said: Mrinal Gore’s sacrifice of her medical career for lifelong social activism was one of a kind with post independence idealism and the establishment of a democratic superstructure of governance.
Known as a political reformer, Mrinal Gore was a member of the Bombay Municipal Corporation. As a politician, she constantly brought into focus the woes of the common woman, earning the admiration of the masses. For her vociferous protests against water shortages in the city she was called Mumbai’s ‘Paaniwali Bai’. She had won the election with the largest margin of votes ever in Maharashtra.
A Socialist State leader, (she) was a Member of Parliament, Member of State Legislature and Mumbai Municipal Corporation, uninterruptedly from 1961 to 1990. A staunch supporter for Women’s empowerment and is in public life as a socialist since 1948.
She works for Swadhar and for the Keshav Gore Smarak Trust KGST .
It was during a family vacation to the nearby town of Palghar that Mrinal came in contact with the Rashtriya Seva Dal RSD , a voluntary organization connected with the Indian National Congress. At the time, India’s freedom struggle was at its height, and the atmosphere was charged by Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India exhortation.
Mrinal had taken up medicine for her higher studies, and although a brilliant student, she decided to drop her academic career in favor of devoting herself to organizing the poor and the disenfranchised. She had passed the first MBBS examinations with flying colors, but in 1947, the year of Independence, Mrinal departed medical college, choosing to become a fulltimer with the RSD, organizing housewives for sociopolitical work.
She spent a year with the Congress, leaving in 1948 with a group of Socialist youngsters who decided to form the Socialist Party, which became a critical thorn in the Congress party’s flesh. The same year, Mrinal married Socialist leader Keshav “Bandhu” Gore. The two were from different castes and were breaking the prevalent caste taboo by marrying. The Gores lived and worked in Goregaon, a rural area that has now become part of suburban Mumbai.
In 1950, Mrinal joined the Goregaon Mahila Mandal as its secretary. The Mahila Mandal worked for the uplift of women in the area; in 1951, the organization put in place the Family Planning Center under Mrinal’s guidance. She was a step ahead of the Indian government, which introduced its family planning programs only in 1952.
In 1952, Mrinal and Keshav had a daughter. A year later, Mrinal was back and active again and was elected to the Village Council. In 1954-55, the couple also participated in the Goa liberation movement from the Portuguese, and the movement for the establishment of the linguistic state of Maharashtra. She organized a series of protest rallies with women satyagrahis for the Sayukta Maharashtra Movement, occasionally being jailed. Mrinal also resigned from the Village Council around this time with many others who were part of representative bodies in Maharashtra, on the issue of the Sayukta Maharashtra Movement.
Keshav died in 1958. Mrinal and other colleagues of Keshav’s set up the Keshav Gore Smarak Trust, which supports community-centered activities and social awareness campaigns and actions. This was the year that Mrinal became actively involved with civic rights, among them water and toilets for people in hutment’s and shantytowns.
She also questioned civic planning that ignored the needs of the poor, and opposed the state authorities and builders’ lobby which work together to demolish slums. Over the years, she has succeeded in rehabilitating thousands of people in pucca houses on government-allotted land.
In 1961, when she was elected to the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC), Mrinal began a long, arduous struggle to get waterlines and adequate water quota for poor and lower-middle class people. She campaigned tirelessly and organized people’s protests, pointing out that while the poor lacked adequate drinking water, the elite had constant running water, enough for their swimming pools. Finally, she forced the BMC to hand over an extra pipeline and install booster pumps.
The campaign stuck her with the sobriquet “Paaniwali bai” (literally, water-woman). Mrinal also organized a conference on water in Goregaon in 1962, followed by a siege of the BMC commissioner; meanwhile, the struggle for water and toilets in slums and shantytowns, and housing for the poor, continued apace.
In 1972, Mrinal was elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly on a Socialist Party ticket. She raised issues of atrocities on marginalized farmers, indigenous people, Dalits, and women. Indira Gandhi’s power was cresting. After the India-Pakistan war and the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, prices of essential commodities rocketed up; shortages of foodgrains and kerosene were created thanks to the government’s policy of compulsory rationing; blackmarketing took root and came to stay.
Mrinal was at the forefront in setting up in September 1972 the Anti-Price Rise Committee, which mobilized the largest-ever turnout of women since the Independence movement. A whole arsenal of peaceful devices was used for protests, which carried on for two or three years. In the meantime, Mrinal also worked with other Socialists, succeeding in getting the government to focus on drought conditions in rural Maharashtra and chalk out a plan for the drought-affected.
In 1975, Indira Gandhi imposed the much-reviled internal Emergency. Constitutional rights were withdrawn, and strict censorship became routine. Mrinal went underground to guide a women’s protest against the Emergency. She was arrested in December that year and jailed, initially in solitary confinement and then with women who were seriously mentally unwell.
The Emergency was withdrawn in 1977. Mrinal was elected to Parliament with the highest margin of votes in the entire state of Maharashtra on the ticket of the Janata Party, a merger of four anti-Emergency parties. When the merger crashed in 1979.Mrinal lost the elections, but continued engaging with public issues, especially housing for the poor.
Around this time she became involved with women’s groups and participated in protests against rape and dowry. In 1983, she established Swadhar, a support center for women victims of domestic violence, and the Committee for Action Against Atrocities on Women. The Shramjeevi Mahila Sangh was also organized during those days, expressly for women employees who were not taking part, for various reasons, in the activities of the common union.
In 1985, Mrinal was again elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. Her most notable legislative action was introducing a Bill to prevent sex determination tests that directly led to female foeticide. The government agreed to ban these tests through a resolution in 1986.
In 1988, Mrinal was operated upon for breast cancer and could not resume work until the 1990s. By this time, a number of Socialist groupings were becoming worried about the barging of multinational corporations into the country. It became an issue close to Mrinal’s heart: she protested strongly the entry of US giant Enron in the power sector. She was involved in the Narmada Dam people’s displacement issue and the scientifically-unexamined raising of the dam’s height. Mrinal expressed her staunch support of the Narmada valley’s indigenous peoples’ rights and traveled extensively through the affected areas.
From 2000, Mrinal has only been sporadically involved, although she continues to provide guidance to her many projects. She celebrated her 75th birthday in June 2008 and has been slowed by health concerns, but remains mentally agile. Some of her main concerns, at the moment, are the Hindu-Muslim communal divide, fundamentalism, and the politics of hatred.
Mrinal has the knack of involving the community directly in her causes. She uses an imaginative range of nonviolent protest methods - marches, sit-ins, public fasting, and face-offs with the authorities - to draw people into working for themselves. She does not see the issues of Dalits, women, workers, farmers, and indigenous communities as separate problems, but as part of a whole that deserves a pluralistic and inclusive problem-solving approach.
A pioneer and visionary, Mrinal Gore is truly a leader and will always remain one.
Keshav Gore Smarak Nidhi
Smriti, Aarey Road
Near Abhi Goregaonkar School
Mumbai - 400062
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