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
"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.