Literary giant, crusader for tribal rights Mahasweta Devi dead
Kolkata: Eminent activist-writer, honoured with Padma Vibhushan and Magsaysay Award for her decades of crusade for the rights of tribals and the marginalised, Mahasweta Devi died at a city nursing home on Thursday, 28th July 2016 following prolonged old-age complications. She was 90.
"She passed away at 3.16 p.m. following a cardiac arrest and multi-organ failure," a doctor attending on her confirmed. Mahasweta Devi is survived by her daughter-in-law and grandchild. Her son pre-deceased her two years back.
In a six-decade long literary career, she authored over 120 books, comprising 20 collections of short stories and around 100 novels, and contributed innumerable articles and columns to newspapers and magazines, a large number of them woven around tribal life.
Adopting a simple style laced with colloquial words and expressions, Mahasweta blended oral histories with contemporary events to portray the sufferings of the tribals in the hands of upper-caste landlords, money lenders and government servants.
The novel "Aranyer Adhikar" (The Occupation of the Forest), dwelling on Birsa Munda's revolt against the British, fetched Mahasweta Devi the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1979. "Choti Munda evam Tar Tir" (Choti Munda and His Arrow), "Bashai Tudu", "Titu Mir", are among other masterpieces.
Another famous novel published in 1975 -- "Hajar Churashir Maa" (Mother of 1,084), inspired by Maxim Gorky's "Mother" -- has the backdrop of the Maoist movement.
From the late '70s, she began to intervene directly and championed the cause of two tribal groups -- the Lodhas of erstwhile Midnapur district and the Kheria Sabars of Purulia -- who were among those notified by the British in 1871 as "criminal tribes".
Mahasweta Devi later came to be revered as "The Mother of the Sabars". Simultaneously, she lent her weight to the tribal struggles in various other states.
People from across the fields of art, culture, cinema and politics paid tribute to her.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described her as "a voice of compassion, equality and justice", while Congress President Sonia Gandhi described Mahasweta Devi as "India's conscience keeper, whose words echoed her inner voice, representing the voiceless and faceless countrymen".
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced that the Jnanpith winner would be given a state funeral on Friday.