Mata Dayal—Folk Poet Who Sings for Justice

Mata Dayal

In Bundelkhand region in many meetings on issues relating to justice and development, people wait eagerly to hear songs sung by Mata Dayal. It is quite possible that Mata Dayal may sing a song written and composed by himself. He shows me a diary on which he has written several of these songs, probably 50 or so. However he is equally at home singing folk-songs or songs written by others, as long as these have some message of justice, environment protection and creating a better world, and he maintains a rich collection of these songs.

“While writing new songs I keep in mind some folk tunes which I have heard being hummed for long, and this is one reason why these songs find a ready response among villagers here”, he says.  His achievement is all the more impressive considering the fact that till he was about 30 years of age, Mata Dayal, who was born in a landless dalit family of Bundelkhand, was completely illiterate, having never gone to school. His family had shifted from Pindaran village in Baberu area to Harijanpur village in Manikpur block but it was like going from one life of relentless poverty to another. His family had a land patta here but could not cultivate most of it or the yield was very low on the other portion.

It was at this stage that he came in contact with a leading social activist of the area named Gopal Ji who was director of ABSSS voluntary organization at that time. This organization is known for its award-winning water conservation works and in fact had come to his village for one of these water conservation works, the water tank of Harijanpur, which has since proved to be of durable value, serving the villagers well even now. The ABSSS was also working for landless farmers with land pattas to enable them to cultivate their land. Mata Dayal’s family also benefited from this campaign, as did many other families of Harijanpur. The combination of water conservation and land rights campaign helped to change our family on durable basis for the better, Mata Dayal says, recalling those days.

Recognizing the hidden potential of Mata Dayal and his wife Ramkali ( who too had not been to school), Gopal encouraged them to participate in social and cultural programs and to learn to read and write. He also provided them some opportunities for this.

Both of them made very good use of these opportunities. Ram Kali later emerged as a social activist with the well- known social program for empowerment of women called Mahila Samakhya. Mata Dayal was soon much in demand for his songs of social awakening.

He subsequently worked with several voluntary organizations of the region including the ABSSS, the Vigyan Shiksha Kendra and the Vidyadham Samiti, and I would meet him at their various gatherings. What is more, he also got involved with a small but national-level organization of forest workers called Akhil Bhartiya Van Jan Shramjivi Union and is now the Vice-President of this union.

During a recent chance encounter he introduced me proudly to his grand-daughter who had just completed her B.Sc. and was planning to study further. His grandson too was also receiving higher education, he informed.

He also told me about his continuing work in Manikpur to try to mobilize the poorest people so that they can cultivate their land pattas. This has enabled several families to obtain food security. Clearly Mata Dayal has not forgotten his roots, the landlessness and poverty of his childhood years, and he is now doing whatever he can to help families still placed in such conditions. He will like to continue like this, composing and singing songs and helping to give one more push for the cause of justice whenever he has a chance to do so.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Navjeevan and A Day in 2071, short story collections in Hindi and English.

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