Interview Of The Week: Merciful Dayabhai
Social activist Mercy Mathew from Pala elucidates on her expedition of life to discover her true home | Anjana George
On Feb 13, 2012


Draped in a simple cotton saree, the thin lady with rough hands and feet donning silver earrings and bangles looked like one among the tribals of North India. Looks betray the ironclad determination behind this woman of substance who left her house in her teens to serve the poorest of the poor. She is known as ‘Tinsei Ki Rani’, ‘Guardian Angel of Gond tribals’ and ‘Chamar di Bahen’. 
For Mercy Mathew from Pala, it was an arduous effort to change herself to Dayabhai and become one among the tribals of Madhya Pradesh devoting her life to selfless service.
Dayabhai as she is fondly called, Mercy has been living in a remote Gond village in Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh serving and empowering the tribals for the past 30 years.

Dayabhai was born in a high caste traditional Christian landlord family at Poovarani in Pala district.
“Our family was proud that we were below nobody. I was too religious but a bit rebellious too. When I was 3 years old, I drank water from the servant’s water pot. I did not know that they were untouchable. My grandmother was angry and pushed me out of the house. Since then I purposely made friends with the ‘untouchables’ and shared my lunch with them,” recollected Dayabhai.
“I was disturbed seeing the gap that existed among the human beings in society in the name of caste and religion. I was inspired by the life of Christ who lived as a human being. I wanted to dedicate my life to serve the poor. So I trained myself to be a strong person by fasting, kneeling on stones and praying for hours with my arms outstretched.”
Mercy joined convent at 16 thinking that being a missionary will help her to work for the poor. But soon she realized that life in a convent was too comfortable and secure.
“I felt that the missionaries are more concerned about their security than the society.  I wanted freedom to work. But there the decisions were taken by the church without my participation.  Then I realized there is not much difference between my home and a monastery.”
Later she completed Nursing course from Vellore and then joined Master of Social Work (MSW) in 1978 at Mumbai.
“During the first year of MSW, I was assigned to work with the villagers of Madhya Pradesh as part of my field work. I found that the tribal women were suffering a lot. They had to work in the farms and also take care of their children. The men sat around and boasted about their dignity. I also found that there were neither social organizations nor any governmental plans to support the ignorant tribes.”
Shortly after that she voluntarily worked with the Bangladesh refugees at Calcutta, a flood relief program in Haryana and travelled in many other places helping the needy.
“Working with the sufferers gave me a clear picture on what I should do. I visualised and dreamt living with the poor in a hut, eating the same food and being one of them.”
 “I returned to Madhya Pradesh and I roamed almost two months in the tribal village of Tinsei. I begged for food and shelter. I slept in the verandas of their huts. I ate the food they gave me.  I still remember one among them asking me, ‘Why did you come to us? We are the monkeys of the forest.’”
This was when Mercy became Dayabhai. She started wearing their clothes and working with them in the farms. Dayabhai taught the tribals and she fought along with them for their rights. The Forest Department was forced to pay their wages on time.  She also developed street plays on various issues, including alcoholism, environmentalism and communalism to educate the tribes.
“I have faced a lot of difficulties. I never used to think that I am a woman. Once when I was sleeping in a railway station, the station master told me ‘Where there is honey, flies will gather.’ This made me think. I became cautious and I learnt methods of self defence.”

Dayabhai received the National Award for Social Work from Dharma Bharati in 2001 and many other awards in recognition of her social service.
“I feel I have been successful. I do not think of awards. I am happy that the villagers of Tinsei and Barul have accepted me. I worked for their social upliftment and now I see them confidently approaching the officials.”
Even though she faced a lot of hard times, Mercy never regretted her decision to serve the poor. She grew up as an emotional and sensitive girl with delicate health but she moulded herself to face the hardships.
“I never looked back. There were situations when I did not get the result. Those hurdles and oppositions made me walk ahead. I never thought of going back home. My family knows that I am not someone to live as a house wife. They were very supportive and they have accepted me the way I am.”
“I think of multiplication of Dayabhai. Many have come to stay with me but all left saying ‘Dayabhai’s life is very hard, I cannot live this life.’  I dream of building a village where people live together beyond the thoughts of religion and class.”


The seventy-one year lady with a fire in her eyes is discovering more of her potential day after day.
“There is a lot of work to be done. I want everyone to open their eyes, see around and feel. Awake Arise and Act. I have given a message to everyone through my life. Now it is your turn to be alive in the world where you are.” 
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high caste traditional Christian !!! what does that mean? Dayabhai is a high human being why you want to tag her like this? Dayabhai's life is beyond these struggles, dont know why Anjana George avoided dayabhai's life style and her un parallel relationship with her pet DOG. How she prepared the whole village as one big farm, her love for nature etc.
Karnan, on Feb 14, 2012 10:28:36 AM
Karnan, thanks for the comment. As a reporter my object is only to bring the facts to the readers. The space limitation restrains me from going into every minute detail. But I have tried my best to feature Dayabhai’s philanthropic and positive side.
Anjana George, on Feb 14, 2012 11:31:29 AM
Good work Anjana. Dayabhai's relation with her dogs and her interest in organic farming are well heard in every her interviews.you have given a good picture of her social concern and her inspiration. Thanks for the coverage.
Anil Kumar S, on Feb 16, 2012 12:21:18 AM
high caste traditional Christian??? This was the only blotch in this beautiful article about this brave lady. Reminds me of the White mans burden. Dayabhai's sacrifices shouldn't be tagged as something she performed all because she was born as an upper caste.
Deepesh, on Feb 16, 2012 03:29:31 PM
High class traditional Christian family in kerala means it is high class . She left her luxuries and she is leading her life as poorest of the tribals in a remote village. Why cant we appreciate that point rather being cynical and paranoiac on the Phrase 'High Traditional Christian Family In Kerala'??? I just cant digest this. I'm really worried about the maligned psyche. Please grow up!!!
R Ajay Gosh , on Feb 16, 2012 09:12:57 PM
absolutely! i second what Ajay Ghosh has said... Anjana has mentioned it just to highlight what dayabhai gave up in her dedication to service. the contrast serves to heighten the effect here... yes, we need to get out of such warped psyches where words like class and caste can only be seen as offensive... sometimes they are not you know...
Alakananda, on Feb 16, 2012 10:45:19 PM
Deepesh and Karnan, I pity you for being so narrow minded. In this entire article there was one point mentioned on her cast and you pointed out it as a big mistake. if you read the story you'l understand the necessity of that sentence. Why do you bother much about it? Anjana has given a good narration. All the best Yentha. keep writing articles about such Heroes. Forget about those who pin point such silly things.
Arpitha Acharaya , on Feb 17, 2012 12:52:55 AM
It’s just the references & depiction of the castes & religions which i have pointed out as could have been avoided. The work that Dayabhai has done in the remote villages was enough for an average reader like me to understand the sacrifices that this lady has done for the people. Also those were not just the sentences; there are some more words in the article referring to the tribal. The question that we need to ask ourselves is do we need to include these words to heighten the effect (as one reader has pointed out as a necessity), isn't the work that Dayabhai has done enough to bring the effect. Castes & Religion are usually used & they look less offensive when they appear in political manifestos. I have acknowledged in my comments that Author has done a beautiful article on Dayabhai. I hope the author understands that I didn't mean any disrespect & takes my comments/criticisms :) in a healthy manner.Keep up the good work.
Deepesh, on Feb 17, 2012 12:19:17 PM
high caste christian is not so important matter for a debate. see there are dalit chritians also in kerala, and they are in similar situation as other backward classes,
GEORGE THOMAS, on Mar 19, 2012 11:45:09 AM
I feel that her life is an inspiration for me. I feel like knowing more about her life and experience that way of life. Can i get her contact details?
Nibu, on Oct 07, 2012 12:15:18 AM
Daya Bhai 23 March “I was born in a high caste traditional Christian landlord family. Our family was proud that we were below nobody. I was too religious but a bit rebellious too. When I was 3 years old, I drank water from the servant’s water pot. I did not know that they were untouchable. My grandmother was angry and pushed me out of the house. Since then I purposely made friends with the ‘untouchables’ and shared my lunch with them.” https://www.facebook.com/pages/Daya-Bhai/162496053800431 .. PLEASE READ CARE FULLY ... DAYA BHAI IS THE REAL CHRISTIAN LIVING LIKE WHAT JESUS CHRIST TAUGHT... CONGRATULATIONS ANJANA GEORGE ..GOOD REPORT ..
SABU PUTHENPARAMBIL, on Apr 06, 2013 09:23:35 AM
Cam I get Dhaybai Madams no....
Rev. Shalu T Mathew, on Oct 21, 2013 06:58:59 PM
BEENA, on Jul 12, 2014 10:39:40 AM
AJEESH DHAS C G, on Mar 13, 2016 08:07:53 PM
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