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Issue No.: 543 | September 2012
 

Mrinal Gore, R.I.P

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ourage and Commitment,
 
Gandhiji once observed "Maharashtra is a beehive of constructive workers". Mrinal Gore who passed away on 17th July, 2012 belonged to that category. She was born on 24th June, 1928, in a higher middle class family as Mrinal Mohite.  A brilliant student in her school and college, she gave up her medical education to serve the down-trodden, the neglected, and the marginalized sections of society. In the early 1940’s she joined the Rashtra Seva Dal, a youth organization devoted to the cause of Indian independence, secular nationalism and democratic socialism. At one of the training camps of the Dal in 1946, she met her life partner Keshav alias Bandu Gore, a staunch socialist, thinker and political activist. Keshav Gore was elected Sarnpanch of Village Panchayat of Goregaon.
 
As a Panchayat member in 1953, she initiated various constructive programmes.A firm believer in the cause of family planning she promoted and spread its message with the co-operation of the All India Women's Conference. A huge conference of slum-workers was organized at Goregaon which was presided over by Dr. Ram Mohan Lohia. The rehabilitation of displaced slum dwellers was arranged in the presence of the then Chief Minister Shri Y.B. Chavan. Rehabilitation of the Dongri Slum Dwellers was hailed as ‘The saga of Tin Dongri’ by the English print media. Her efforts for the welfare of common, needy people in general and for the slum dwellers in particular were amply rewarded; she was elected Corporator to the Mumbai Municipal Corporation in 1961.She earned the sobriquet "Paniwali Bai" in Mumbai for her efforts to facilitate the supply of drinking water to thousands of people in her constituency during her tenure as corporator .
 
In 1950's she actively participated in the Goa liberation movement and Samyukta Maharashtra agitation. She, along with two socialist corporators, succeeded in passing a resolution to conduct Corporation meetings in Marathi, the state language of Maharashtra. She whole heartedly put into practice the three approaches to political work propounded by Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia - ballot box, jail and spades (belief in democracy, readiness to serve imprisonment, constructive work). She also took inspiration from the teachings of Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan.
 
As member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, she mobilized woman power from all sections of the society in general, and middle and lower middle class women, in particular. The agitation took a quantum leap in September 1972 and the humble rolling-pin (called Latnii Marathi) became a symbol of the massive woman power in Mumbai. In all her agitations, there was no violence in action or speech. ‘Swadhar’, an institution for women in distress was formed by her in 1983 has, since its inception, rendered guidance and counselling to thousands of women in matters of family problems and financial stress. She introduced a bill ‘Prenatal Diagnostic Technique’ in 1986, which was passed unanimously. Maharashtra was the first state in India to pass such an Act.
 
She opposed the emergency period and went underground but was arrested in December 1975. After her release in February 1977, she was elected a Member of Parliament from North Mumbai Constituency. When she was offered the Health Ministry by the then PM Morarji Desai, she declined saying she preferred to work among the people.
 
One of her most significant contributions to the welfare of the downtrodden masses was the construction of 5,000 houses for the poor and needy people under the aegis of The Nagari Niwara Parishad.
 
J. S. Apte, Formerly
Director,
Family Planning Association of India, Mumbai, is currently a freelance writer on developmental issues.
 
The following excerpts from a tribute paid by V. Balachandran a retired senior police official, to Mrs.Mrinal Gore and published in his column in the Sunday Guardian (New Delhi) and India on Sunday(London) July 29,2012  were re-produced in Freedom First:
"Paniwali Bai" died on 17 July. She was 84... I came to know her in 1972 when I assumed charge of policing the sprawling Mumbai Western suburbs, which frequently saw law and order problems. We had to seek her help in pacifying a huge crowd, which was squatting on the railway tracks, disrupting traffic. The situation was getting uncontrollable and my Goregaon police inspector suggested seeking her help. Being new to Mumbai I did not know anything about her. However, her presence worked like magic and the rebellious crowd meekly obeyed her soothing words and melted away.
In 1974, I was caught in the crosshairs with her soon after I took charge of the Special Branch. Her agitation against rising prices took a new turn when she formed a group of lady "storm troopers" from all political parties. They would stealthily sneak into government offices one by one and then suddenly gherao (encircling the government functionary as pressure tactics) the ministers in their chambers to press their demands. Once they barged into the Cabinet Room when the full Maharashtra Cabinet under Chief Minister V.P. Naik was in session. They would not allow us to arrest them until women police arrived. Even then they had to be dragged out one by one to the glee of press photographers.
 
Our struggle for six months to arrest her after the infamous Emergency has been chronicled by ace Crime Branch investigator, the late P.L. Mokashi, in his Marathi book with an English title " You are Under Arrest" (1984). Mokashi, who was then working in the Special Branch with me, was deputed to arrest her after the protest meeting at "Hutatma Chowk" (Martyrs' Memorial) on 25 June 1975, the day "Emergency" was proclaimed. She spoke vehemently against the suspension of fundamental rights and vanished into thin air even as Mokashi's team was waiting to arrest her. Our failure to arrest her caused a lot of embarrassment to the late S.B. Chavan, then Chief Minister, who used to ridicule us by saying, "Can't you catch a woman?"
 
Mrs Gore, who went "underground"  also taunted the Chief Minister and Prime Minister by sending letters from different places. After she was arrested in December 1975 from a private house where she was holding a secret anti-Emergency meeting, her diary was seized as "evidence" of her "anti-Emergency" activities. But my heart bled when I read the poignant entries. She had lamented that she could not visit her only daughter who was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. She asked herself what more punishment could be given to a loving mother? It was later alleged that a vindictive Home Department had ordered her detention with criminals.
 
In May 1976, I moved to the Central government on "deputation". In 1977, I called on her in New Delhi. She was then a Member of Parliament, elected with a thumping majority during that year's elections, which also saw Mrs Gandhi's ignominious defeat. When I met her I apologised for all her troubles. But she received me with her usual smile, without any rancour and insisted on making tea for me. She was a great soul. If I know her well, she might be trying to gherao the God in heaven to bring justice to the world!
 
Vappala Balachandran
Excerpted from his tribute to Mrs. Mrinal Gore in the
Sunday Guardian (New Delhi) and India on Sunday
(London) July 29, 2012.
 
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