Writers International Edition

From Activism to Art: The Meher Pestonji Saga

In the mosaic of Indian social activism, Meher Pestonji emerges as a formidable force—a social worker, freelance journalist, and writer whose journey is marked by a relentless pursuit of justice and a seamless blend of advocacy and artistry.

Since the 1970s, Pestonji has been at the forefront, championing the cause of the oppressed and underprivileged. Her early activism echoes in the campaign to reform rape laws, a pivotal moment in the history of women’s rights in India. The housing rights of slum dwellers, children’s rights, and anti-communalism campaigns became the battlefields where Pestonji fearlessly fought for a more equitable society.

In the aftermath of the Babri Masjid riots in 1992–93, Pestonji’s commitment to communal harmony soared. She became an integral part of a group of activists working tirelessly to restore peace after the devastating Mumbai riots, demonstrating the transformative power of collective action. Amid these challenging times, Pestonji found solace and purpose in creative writing, infusing her advocacy with the power of storytelling.

During the mid-1980s, Pestonji’s engagement with street children and her mobilization for filmmaker Anand Patwardhan’s campaign against slum destruction showcased her multifaceted approach to social issues. In the heart of the Mumbai riots, she collaborated with mohalla committees in Dharavi, embodying a hands-on commitment to community resilience.

Transitioning seamlessly from activism to journalism, Pestonji interviewed scientists, business people, and fellow social workers, bringing a diverse range of voices to the forefront. Her role as a bridge between different spheres of society exemplifies her commitment to holistic change.

In an interview with the Times of India, Pestonji labeled herself as an ‘accidental Parsi,’ a term that encapsulates her evolving relationship with her own community, especially post the 1992–93 Mumbai riots. However, this shift in perspective has not been without its share of critiques and challenges, as seen in responses from within the Parsi community.

Pestonji’s writing bears the imprints of her personal and journalistic experiences, intertwined with her deep connection to the segments of society she passionately engages with. Her storytelling prowess shines through in works like “Mixed Marriage and Other Stories,” “Pervez,” “Sadak Chhaap,” and the intriguingly titled “Piano for Sale” and “Feeding Crows.”

Meher Pestonji, with her unwavering commitment to social justice and the art of storytelling, stands as a beacon—a testament to the transformative power of words and actions in shaping a more inclusive and compassionate world.

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Shelley Kenigsberg
6 months ago

It’s a wonderful thing to find and write inspiring, life affirming stories; and far more to galvanise other artists to join their talents with yours and find ways to move more hearts, wake up more people to the truth of the divides in the world and begin to find ways to repair those divides.
More power to you and your writing.

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