Documentary salutes Kerala woman’s heroic work

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM - “I feel I’ve been successful,” the 69-year-old lady said quietly, almost with child-like shyness. Coming after her devoting 30 years of her life to the poorest of the poor, this was almost an understatement.

Mercy Mathew, fondly called Dayabai, is considered the guardian angel of the Gond tribals of Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh. Inspired by her spirit, a filmmaker decided to make a documentary on her life. Titled “Oottayaal” (One Woman: Alone), the 80-minute film was shown Wednesday at an event in the city, with Dayabai in attendance.

The film is directed by Shiny Jacob Benjamin, a journalist and chief of programmes of Congress-backed Jaihind TV channel.

“I doubt if there is any personality like Dayabai in Kerala. The moment I heard of her determination, I decided that I will do a documentary on her,” said Shiny, who has picked up numerous awards for his previous works.

Speaking to the media after the preview show, Dayabai - dressed in the typical dress of the Gond women - said she was delighted.

“My perseverance appears to have paid off. Today, I’ve been accepted by the villagers of Barul,” she said.

She also revealed that initially, member of parliament from the district, Kamal Nath, was suspicious of her work, but now shared a good rapport with her.

It was way back in 1957, as a 16-year old, that Mercy left her home town in Poovarani in Kottayam district, wanting to be a nun. But she soon felt she was a misfit, and went to Mumbai to work among the destitute.

“For me, I always wanted to discover my own path to Jesus Christ. Since leaving home, I have been to Bengal, Mumbai, Andhra Pradesh and finally Chhindwara, some 30 years back. And now, I am almost one amongst the Gonds,” she said.

In between, she also found time to pursue a post graduate degree in social work, and occasionally coaches students as well.

“Over the years, I have worked as a labourer like the Gonds, and my only objective was their social upliftment. To a large extent, I feel I have been successful. Today, I see many of them approaching government offices confidently,” she smiled.

Dayabai also said she wanted to work among tribals in the northeast.

“I don’t take any support from any foreign funding agencies. My scanty resources come from my friends especially Nandita Das, who has always been a well wisher. But I don’t like this sort of press conferences and media exposure,” she said.

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