The Pioneers: Mrinal Gore

Print edition : June 06, 2008

Mrinal Gore. She earned the sobriquet Paniwali Bai for her efforts to bring drinking water supply to Goregaon, a Mumbai suburb.-K. PRAVIN

HAD she not been slowed by age and health concerns, 80-year-old Mrinal Gore may have whipped out her rolling pin and led another famous rolling pin protest against the rising prices of essential commodities. A decade ago, in a protest against price rise, Gore led a rally of hundreds of women brandishing rolling pins from Churchgate to Azad Maidan in South Mumbai. The first time she held a similar protest on the issue was in 1972.

Mrinal Gore belongs to that special set of women who took to politics in a period when it was virtually unthinkable for women to be involved in public work. Gore and her contemporaries such as Ahilya Rangnekar are respected for their participation in politics and for their work in the upliftment of women and the poor. It can be said that their reformist agenda and efforts paved the way for the independent Indian woman of today.

Gore quit her course in medicine and began a career in politics in 1947 when she joined the Rashtriya Seva Dal, a voluntary organisation linked to the Indian National Congress. She soon joined the Congress but left after a year and started the Socialist Party with a group of youngsters. Gore was deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and threw herself into work involving the poor, womens rights, civil rights, communal harmony and trade union activities.

She and her husband, Keshav Gore, also a socialist, worked tirelessly on building better civic infrastructure for the community in Goregaon, a suburb of Mumbai. Toilets, water connections, community halls, health and family planning centres and schools came up as a result. They even managed to prevent builders from demolishing slums in the area. During this time, the couple participated in the Goa liberation movement as well as the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement. They were occasionally jailed for leading protests and satyagrahas.

In 1961, Gore contested the civic elections and won a seat in the Bombay Municipal Council. Fighting a hard battle, she eventually brought regular and adequate drinking water supply to the area. For this she earned the sobriquet Paniwali Bai. In 1972, Gore contested the Legislative Assembly elections on the Socialist Party ticket. She won with the highest margin of votes in the State. As a Member of the Legislative Assembly, she took up issues such as atrocities on marginal farmers, Dalits, tribal people and women. At this time the prices of essential commodities began skyrocketing a result of the war with Pakistan that had just ended and Gore was at the forefront of the anti-price rise campaign.

Soon after the Emergency, in 1977, Gore was elected to Parliament on the Janata Party ticket. She continued to pursue issues relating to the poor and women. Although she lost her seat when the party split, she remained immensely popular with her constituents and the people she worked for. In 1985, she became an MLA again. This time she took up the issue of banning sex determination tests, which eventually happened.

Speaking to Frontline about women in politics, Gore says reservation has been singularly responsible for bringing more women into politics at the local self-government level. They need to extend it to the Assembly and Lok Sabha levels now. She says people point out that she used to win elections from a general seat and ask her, Why cant others? I was lucky. Not everyone is so fortunate. We have to give women quotas to participate politically. It will be good for our country.

While she may not be participating in marches, dharnas, picketing and public fasting, Gore has not lost her drive in taking up issues, be it the Narmada dam or Enron. Last year her non-governmental organisation, the Brihanmumbai Niwara Abhiyan, embarked on a mission to provide low-cost housing to middle- and low-income groups at a time when real estate prices in Mumbai were at unattainable heights. She had earlier managed to get the government to build 6,000 units in Goregaon for the same category of people. A pioneer and visionary, Gore is truly a leader and will always remain one.

Anupama Katakam
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