Social activist and writer Mahashweta Devi breathed her last on Thursday, aged 90, in Kolkata. She was best known for her impassioned writing and endless activism in favour of empowering the marginalised sections in India.
Admitted to hospital two months ago for age-related illness, she developed a blood infection and kidney failure in the last two days, worsening her condition.
She was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 1926, to a politically, intellectually and creatively charged family. While she started off as a journalist, she has also worked as a professor of literature till late 1980s, and then turned into a full-time writer. Of the many wonderful, hard-hitting books she wrote in Bengali, Rudaali and Hazaar Chaurashir Maa were made into films by Kalpana Lajmi in 1993 and Govind Nihalani in 1998, respectively.
It is not a surprise that her name is not well-known other than in the intellectual and literary circles of the country, for she was not one to grab the spotlight, especially on social media. She spent most of her seven-decade-long career writing for the voiceless and fiercely battling for the faceless.
She fought most notably for the denotified tribes of India. She identified with their struggles, understood their anguish and stood with them for justice. She is known as the 'mother of Sabars' for her work in raising awareness about the livelihood of the Sabar tribe in Purulia, West Bengal. Her stint as a journalist helped her in editing a magazine dedicated entirely to the subject of tribal welfare, called Bartika, since 1980.
Most recently, she was involved in the fight against the government in Nandigram and Singur, West Bengal, which was forcibly taking over land belonging to farmers. She had also led the protest against the commercialisation of Santiniketan, and backed up Budhan Theatre, a theatre group of Chhara Denotified Tribals of Gujarat.
She has received many awards for her courageous advocacy. She won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1979 and the Jnanpith Award in 1996 for her literary work. Besides this, she received Padma Shri (1986) and Padma Vibhushan (2006). She was also bestowed with the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1997.