The late Dashrath Manjhi (1934-2007) is now fondly called Dashrath baba by the villagers of a small hamlet called Gehlor in the Gaya district of Bihar. But this was not the case earlier. There was a time when he was ridiculed, taunted, and discouraged, even by the members of his own family. Why? Because he decided to carve a road through the mountain that separated his village from the nearest town.
But the reason he decided such an impossible feat is a story in itself. They say love can move mountains, they were not wrong. Being a daily labourer all his life, he would have to cross the mountain to the other side to work in a land owner’s field. His wife, again crossing the mountain, would bring him his midday food and water.
One day, she was late, and his hunger, and anger, grew intense. Seeing her limping a while later, he scolded her for her delay, but asked her what was wrong. She had tripped, broken her clay water pot and spilled his lunch, she whimpered.
That day Dashrath looked at the mountain and quietly resolved to “break” the mountain, just as the mountain “broke” his water pot and bruised his wife’s foot.
Every day for the next 22 years, he used his hammer and chisel to break off smaller stones from bigger rock. Today, a journey to the nearest town 70 kilometres away, is now a mere 7 kilometres away.
But Dashrath did not stop there. He began knocking on doors, asking for the road to be tarred, connected to the main road. He walked along the railway line all the way to New Delhi, the capital, collecting signatures of station masters in a book. He submitted a petition there, for his road, for a hospital for his people, a school, and water. In July 2006, ‘Baba’ went to the then Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s ‘Junta Durbar’. The minister, overwhelmed, got up and offered Baba his chair, his minister’s seat; a rare honour for a man of Manjhi’s background.
The government rewarded his efforts with a plot of land; Manjhi donated the land back for a hospital. They also nominated him for the ‘Padma Shree’, but forest ministry officials fought the nomination, calling his work illegal. “I do not care for these awards, this fame, the money,” he said. “All I want is a road, a school, and a hospital for our people. They toil so hard. It will help their women and children.” It would take them 30 years to tar his road.
See his amazing story, in the television series Satyamev Jayte, hosted by Aamir Khan:
On August 17, 2007, Dashrath Manjhi, the man who moved a mountain lost his battle with cancer. All that he had done was for no personal gain. “I started this work out of love for my wife, but continued it for my people. If I did not, no one would.” Manjhi’s words reflect the reality of our country. Now that he is gone, his people are still poor. There are electricity poles, but no electricity; a tube well, but no water; no real hospital, no real livelihoods, little education. Manjhi’s son lost his own wife recently to an illness. After all these years, their fate was sealed by another mountain: poverty, the inability to pay for a doctor, for all the necessary treatment on time.