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A Tall Beacon of Light

Mrinal Gore, veteran politician and leader of the women's movement in Maharashtra, who passed away recently was the quintessential grass-roots leader who could also hold her own in the state legislature. A call from her would mobilise thousands of women on the streets of Mumbai and she tirelessly raised issues that affected the common citizen, from rising prices, shortage of water, sex determination tests to corruption in real estate. Mumbai's citizens, otherwise ever cynical about politicians, held her in great esteem and affectionately called her paaniwali bai - the water lady.

There is a deep sense of sadness at the passing away of Mrinal Gore on 17 July of a cardiac arrest at the age of 84. Not only because I had known her for the better part of my life and had the privilege of being a ringside witness to and participatant in some of her agitations for women’s emancipation, but also because with her demise, another of the tall beacons of light in ­Indian politics has got extinguished.

Gore exemplified all that is noble in public life and remained a true champion of women’s rights and of Mumbai and Maharashtra even when ill health forced her to reduce her active commitments. The daughter of a physics professor, she got politicised in the wake of the freedom struggle and dropped out of medical college to join the Socialist movement in the late 1940s. Along with her husband Keshav Gore she began organising women and in 1951 helped establish a family planning centre in Goregaon where they lived. In those days Goregaon was a village on the outskirts of Bombay. She was first elected to the gram panchayat there and then in 1961 to the Bombay Municipal Corporation. It was during her tenure as corporator that she won the title paaniwali bai (the ­water lady) for her success in getting ­extra pipelines and pumps installed to ensure an adequate quota of water for the ­poorer sections of this city, an affe­ct­ionate moniker that stayed with her till the end.

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