In 1977-’79, when I began my research about the Adivasi groups in the Dahanu and Talasari tehsils of what is now Palghar district in Maharashtra, I witnessed extreme poverty, sexual oppression, debt bondage, uneconomic wages, physical violence among them. However, their long narrations about the dark past and the miserable present, which sometimes lasted for hours, was punctuated by the vivid and inspired memory of Godavari Parulekar, who taught them to “fight well”, and free themselves from oppressive practices of decades.

Three decades after the famous Warli revolt that she led from 1945 to 1947, Godutai, as she was affectionately known, was still a household name. She was often mentioned with deep gratitude, respect and love as the leader who liberated the region’s Adivasis from the hated practices of veth begar (debt bondage and unpaid labour) and lagnagadi (“marriage servant”, whereby a small amount borrowed by an Adivasi for marriage expenses and enslaved him to the landlord-employer for the rest of his life, sometimes for generations).

On August 14, Parulekar’s 114th birth anniversary was celebrated by several organisations in the area. It is an opportune moment to recall the role that the educated, upper-caste, upper-class young woman from Mumbai played in the region.

Intense exploitation

Parulekar began to work in Thane district in 1944 and was…

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