Daya Bai: A Guiding Light in the Service of the Marginalized

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Daya Bai, born as Mercy Mathew in 1940, stands as a living testament to selfless service and a lifelong commitment to uplifting the marginalized. Her journey from a convent to the heart of tribal communities in central India reflects an unwavering dedication to social empowerment.

Early Life and Calling:

Raised in a prosperous Christian family in Pala, Kerala, Daya Bai sensed a divine calling from a young age. At 16, she joined a convent but soon realized her true purpose lay in serving the marginalized. Witnessing the struggles of tribal communities in Madhya Pradesh ignited a passion to dedicate her life to their upliftment.

Empowering the Tribals:

Leaving the convent, Daya Bai immersed herself in tribal communities, advocating for education as the key to their progress. She organized campaigns and satyagrahas, pressuring authorities to establish schools. Her efforts included training barefoot teachers and facilitating their journeys to remote villages.

Overcoming Challenges:

Initially met with skepticism, Daya Bai worked to earn the trust of the tribals. Her genuine care, demonstrated through actions like assisting in childbirth, fostered acceptance. She embraced their culture by adopting their dress, further bridging the gap.

Beyond Education:

Daya Bai’s impact extended beyond education. Recognizing the need for self-reliance, she formed self-help groups (Swayam Sahayatha Groups) in the late 1990s, particularly benefiting women and providing financial independence.

Wider Impact:

Her efforts reverberated beyond Madhya Pradesh, with active participation in movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the Chengara struggle. Daya Bai advocated for the rights of forest dwellers and villagers across various states, leaving an indelible mark.


Today, Daya Bai resides in Barul village, Chhindwara district, Madhya Pradesh, continuing her work. Her unwavering commitment earned her accolades, including the Padma Shri in 2022, highlighting her significant impact.

Additional Details:

  1. Awards and Recognition: Daya Bai received the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian awards, in 2022 for her outstanding social work.
  2. Ongoing Advocacy: Despite her achievements, Daya Bai continues to be a vocal advocate for the rights of the marginalized through speeches, campaigns, and workshops.
  3. Inspiring Others: Her life story has inspired numerous social workers and activists, especially women, to pursue their passions and contribute to social justice.

Daya Bai’s life exemplifies the transformative power of compassion and determination. Her journey from the convent to the heart of marginalized communities serves as an inspiration, reminding us that one individual’s unwavering commitment can catalyze positive change in the lives of many.

Dr. Sajeev Dev
Dr. Sajeev Dev
Articles: 729

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