Often considered as the voice of the subaltern, author Mahasweta Devi was born on January 14, 1926. A writer of over 100 novels and 20 short story collections, she was deeply influenced by the Communist movement in the 1940s. Born to a poet father, Manish Ghatak, and a social worker-writer mother, Dharitri Devi, in Dhaka in 1926, the author never shied away from politics and her writing was deeply entrenched in it. On her 92nd birth anniversary, Google Doodle has honoured this fiery writer.
During her lifetime, she had, time and again, raised her voice against the atrocities suffered by the adivasis. Recipient of numerous literary awards such as the Sahitya Akademi Award, Ramon Magsaysay Award and the Padma Vibhushan, she was deeply moved by the everyday realities she saw around her and started writing during the 1960s. Her novels Hajar Churashir Ma, one of her most celebrated works on the Naxal movement, Rudali, which traces the journey of a girl who was abandoned by her mother after her father’s death; and Aranyer Adhikar, among others, provided a voice to the countless unlettered women — those situated at the fringes of the society — and brought their struggles and plight to the fore.
Her much-acclaimed book Draupadi that narrated the story of a tribal woman named Dopdi, who is accused of being a Naxal and picked up by the police and later gang raped by them, was translated by post-colonial critic and theoretician Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. This had introduced several anglophone speakers to Devi’s work. Spivak, who remembers the author as “spellbinding” later translated Stanodayini (Breast Stories).
Committed to the empowerment of tribals in the country and never the one to shy away from voicing her opinions, Devi had scathingly criticised the CPM government’s acquisition of fertile agricultural land from farmers during the Singur-Nandigram movement. Niece of acclaimed director Ritwik Ghatak and wife of celebrated actor Bijon Bhattacharya — one of the founding members of Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA)— she had famously said: “Ami Ritwik Ghotoker bhagni, Bijon Bhattacharya r ordhangini. Amaar kiser bhoy? Amra bhoy bole kichu jani na (I am Ritwik Ghatak’s niece, I am the wife of Bijon Bhattacharya. What should I be scared of? We don’t know what fear is).”
“As I have been saying incessantly, the right to dream should be the first fundamental right!” Mahasweta Devi had said at the Jaipur Literary Festival in 2013. Devi, who passed away on July 28, 2016, is still remembered owing to her vociferous social activism, her defiant attitude and her deep involvement with the Shabars — one of the Adivasi of Munda ethnic group tribe, who live mainly in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal. They not only suggest the audacity of her dreams, but also her steely resolve to fulfil them, come what may.