Latur is one of the districts in the state of Maharashtra. Not many of us know about it. Some of us may know it and that too for the destructive earthquake that took place there in the year of 1993 in which almost 30,000 people had died. Latur is far away from our popular imagination. However, no matter how small some places are, they have so many stories, stories of struggle, stories of assertion, stories of celebration and most of these stories go unheard. Maya Bansode's story is one such story.
"I am interested in politics because in my childhood people used to tease me by calling me Mayawati. But I used to like that." This was what Maya told me about her engagement in educational, cultural, social and political activities in which she has been participating since school. Today Maya is pursuing her Ph.d from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, one of the premier institutes for social sciences in India. But listening to her struggle, one cannot stop oneself from feeling admiration about her struggle to educate herself and assert herself as a woman.
Maya belonged to a Dalit family in the village of Poharegaon, situated in the district of Latur. She has five sisters and one brother. Her parents are peasants who also work on daily-wage basis wherever work is available. To support her large family, during her childhood, she used to work as a shepherd. She had no other option but to do that since it was a question of survival. However, she did not let go of education; she used to scribble down her homework on her hands and read it aloud while the goats grazed. This was how she scored 69% in her 10th standard board examination. It wasn't easy for her since like many Dalit children she too had faced caste-based discrimination. "In my village, upper caste girls used to be jealous of me and tease me since I, being a Dalit girl, was studying, and studying good" she told me, reflecting on those drab experiences of her early life. "One day, even a teacher had beaten me up severely since I was caught in a fight with a girl who belonged to the teacher's caste. That girl even told me that how can Mangs and Mahars like you study." But Maya survived. Maya fought in her own way.
Later when she aspired to study further at the district level college, her parents were hesitant as for them letting her study further meant lessening the collective earnings of the family to which Maya used to contribute by tutoring children in her village. But Maya was firm on her decision.
Maya came to Latur to pursue her Bachelors in social work. It was the first time that she had seen the town. It was the first time she had come out of her village. It was the needed breakthrough for her. While pursuing her study, she had started to participate in cultural, education activities. She also started to bring awareness among people through the songs which were based on the life and struggle of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. On the occasion of one such program, she visited Pune for the first time. She was fascinated with the city. She decided to pursue her Masters from that city. Hence, she applied after her graduation to Karve Institute, one of the famous colleges in Pune, and she got selected.
But it wasn't easy for her to go through next two years of college. Her economic situation was already fragile. She wasn't in a position to ask money of her parents nor were they able to provide her any assistance. For her, accommodation was the biggest problem in the city of Pune. After restlessly following the welfare department for a hostel room, eventually she was allotted an accommodation in the hostel. Here too, she continued her struggle, kept her participation in social, educational activities intact. It was during this time, she discovered the writings and speeches of Ambedkar which gave her the strength to continue her struggle. She also read books, especially Dalit narratives in the form of novels, poetry etc. during this period. With books, her conscience was being cemented.
It isn't easy for someone like her to do what she had been doing. It was only her attitude and her firm belief in herself that enabled her to do so. As she told me, "As a woman I faced lots of problems. Parents also opposed my decisions to study further and going to the city. But I was stubborn from my childhood. I was stubborn because I knew what I do I do right, and hence I was never scared of anybody. My agitation was my assertion to proclaim my rights as a woman, as a Dalit woman." Such was her conviction.
And it was her conviction in herself that made her walk further. From Pune she came to Mumbai to pursue her M.Phil in TISS and completed it in the year of 2016. Now she is pursuing her Ph.D in TISS from the School of Social Work. In TISS, for the upcoming Students Union's election, she is one of the candidates for the post of Vice-President. Indeed, for her, it isn't an easy task. When her parents got to know about it, they started calling her and asking her to stay away from such activities. But Maya knows what she is doing. For a woman and that too a Dalit woman, asserting herself at the fullest as a human being and proclaiming and defending her rights is the need of an hour. When I asked her about her courageous decision to participate in the election, she said, "I want to increase participation of girls in all spheres of life."
Of course, looking at her journey and her strength, such tasks and events appear smaller as she has a long way to go; and why not? She told me that we must remember what Babasaheb told us: EDUCATE, AGITATE, AND ORGANISE.
Yogesh Maitreya is from Nagpur; he has done his M.A in Criminology and Justice (2013-15) from TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences), Mumbai.