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.