A couple of days ago, the newspapers announced the passing of Mahadevi Tayi, a veteran freedom fighter. This venerable nonagenarian was a child widow and a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi. I had the opportunity to interact with her some years ago. Here's an account.
Tucked away in a quiet, tree-lined lane in Bangalore's Kumara Park, is a spacious compound with many large trees. Inside, there are some simple cottages recreating a typical a village setting. This is a home for the aged and orphans. Upon entering, I was greeted by a fair, aged lady wearing a white sari, conversing with a younger lady in saffron. "Was this ashram really blessed by Acharya Vinobha Bhave?" I asked, pointing to a plaque.
"Oh yes. I was his sevika, and a freedom fighter", said Mahadevi Tayi, the lady in white. "See, there's my photograph on the wall, along with Acharya Vinobhaji, and Pandit Nehru."
"It's all like a story now. I was young and full of energy. Now I'm ninety-four,"Mahadevi Tayi continued. "Those were heady days. Every heart was filled with idealism and patriotic feelings. Gandhiji was a great leader, who called everyone to do non-violent satyagraha against oppressive British rule. I grew up in Wardha under his influence. The young and old, women and children all enthusiastically joined the Freedom Movement.
"At first, the women were shy, but they gained confidence to do satyagraha. Many women were imprisoned along with their husbands. Their property was confiscated by the British, leaving the children destitute. I ran an ashram for three hundred such children, hiding my work from the British government. I was jailed for this, and on three other occasions as well. I even underwent rigorous imprisonment with criminals, and solitary confinement. But we had the courage to withstand hardship, and sacrifice our personal comfort for the sake of our country.
During the Razakar Andolan in the princely state of Hyderabad, Vinobhaji was called. Vinobhaji went on a padyatra in rural areas for fourteen years. Many men and women from all parts of the country followed him. I was constantly by his side. Vinobhaji saw wide disparities among the rich, landed people, and the poor, landless peasants. Vinobhaji asked the rich to donate land for distribution among the poor. This was the Bhoodan Movement."
Channamma Hallikere, the lady in saffron, had her own story to tell. "As freedom fighters, my parents were imprisoned many times. As a one-year old baby, I stayed in Dhulia jail with my mother. When my parents were jailed, the British confiscated our property. I now live in Vinobhaji's ashram in Wardha. He started this ashram for uniting women workers. It is a community of women, including foreigners, living together in cooperation and harmony as brahmacharis. I conduct three-day camps for people in rural areas, helping them and spreading the teachings of Gandhiji and Vinobhaji in Kannada. I have been doing social work for fifty years."
"Helping and encouraging the people in the ashram keeps me busy", said Mahadevi Tayi. "Nobody is destitute or anath. God is everyone's nath."