Daya Bai (originally Mercy Mathew) is a social activist from Kerala working for the upliftment of tribals in central India. At present she lives in Barul village of Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh.
Daya bai social activist in kerala protection on western ghats
Mercy Mathew hails from a prosperous Christian family in Pala, Kerala. She led a happy and harmonious childhood life, and she had a strong faith in God to overcome all the struggles.
She left Pala at the age of 16 to become a nun, and later gave up her habit to work for the tribal population in the midlands of India. Her inspiring speeches in a language that reaches out to her audience, her satyagrahas and campaigns to press local authorities to open schools and her efforts to empower almost forgotten villages in the interior and tribal Madhya Pradesh emphasise how Daya Bai has improved the life of the tribals. She was associated with Narmada Bachao Andolan and the Chengara agitation, apart from her solo struggles representing the forest dwellers and villagers in Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal. She also lent her services to the common folk in Bangladesh during the war there. Daya Bai, who practises the theology of liberation, settled down among the Gonds of Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh. She set up a school in the Barul village. Wherever Daya Bai goes she takes the opportunity to help the village people. Daya Bai teaches each village she visits how to take care of itself and then moves on to the next village, which makes her different from many other so-called social workers.
She started the Swayam Sahayatha Group in the late 90s, as a tool for the eradication of poverty. This earned her the wrath of the middlemen, the money lenders and village chief. She asked female officers on the bank to use their position for the uplift of the downtrodden and the distressed poor.
Daya Bai received the Vanitha Woman of the Year award in 2007. She was awarded with the Good Samaritan National Award (instituted by the Kottayam Social Service Society and Agape Movement, Chicago) in January 2012.
Ottayal or 'One Woman-Alone,' is an hour-long documentary on Daya Bai by Shiny Jacob Benjamin. Nandita Das, the film personality, wrote a tribute to her in 2005, as the one inspiration of her life.