It is said that human effort and courage has the power to stand up to any catastrophic event or force and struggle through it to achieve something greater, no matter how much painful and agonizing the struggle is. This has been epitomized and represented from time to time in the feats of great men and women since the beginning of this world. There have always been individuals who dared to go against all the odds, who could swim through violent storms and who possessed the strength to shake mountains. And, some of them have literally done that.
In the face of sheer necessity, we see the best of humans rising to moment and performing some unbelievable act. Dashrath Manjhi of Bihar is one such superman. Manjhi carved a path 110mts long, 9.1mts wide, and 7.6mts deep through hillock, and that too without any machinery and using only a hammer and chisel. In his stoic frenzy, Manjhi invested his prime years of life making a road through a rock that would benefit generations to come. Manjhi’s self-made road shortened travel distance between the Atri and Wazirganj blocks of Gaya district from 55 km to 15 km.
Around the beginning of the 1930s, Dashrath Manjhi was born in Gehlaur, a village near Gaya district of Bihar, India. At a young age, Manjhi ran away from his home and went to work at Dhanbad’s coal mines. After a brief period, he returned to his village and married Falguni Devi.
The misfortunate life of Atri folks
Manjhi belonged to the community of landless laborers, the Musahars, who lived amid rocky terrain in the remote Atri block of Gehlaur. The Musahars were regarded the lowest section in a casteist society and were left to live in a place where they had no access even to the basic needs of life. Let leave aside a school or electricity, there were no proper water supply or a medical center in Manjhi’s village. An almost 300-foot mountain stood between Atri and Wazirganj, which was the nearest town and where the people could go to in time of medical need and the likes. The big mass of rock made transportation a difficult task for the locals.
The Accident that prompted Manjhi
Like all the menfolk of the community, Manjhi worked on the other side of the mountain, plowing fields for a landlord and would also pit stone. At noon, his wife Falguni used to bring lunch for him. As there was no road, she had to trudge hours through the mountain.
One dark day in 1959, Falguni tripped on a loose rock and was severely injured. She slid down several feet, injuring her seriously. She could not be taken to the nearest hospital on time as that was hours away from the village owing to the mountain in the way. Falguni could not bear the suffering and succumbed to death. This terrible accident deeply disturbed Manjhi. The mountain had already claimed many lives. But he could not bear that it had taken her beloved wife too, her partner and soul-mate. At last, he decided that even if it took all his life, he would carve a passage through the rocky mass so that no one would perish there like his wife.
Attempting the impossible
Resolute in his mission, Manjhi bought a few tools like hammer, chisel, and crowbar. For that, he sold his livestock, which was a source of income for his impoverished family. He used to begin quite early in the morning. First, he would chip the mountain for some hours and then would work on the fields. Later, he would come back to work on the mountain again. During those times, he hardly slept. In the beginning, he seemed to have gone insane, and the folks used to mock him whenever they saw him hammering the mountain. Later, he also quitted his job at fields and spent more time breaking the mountain.
But it was a herculean task. Manjhi would often get hurt by the rocks falling from the solid mass of stone. Sometimes, he used to help people to carry their stuff over the mountain for a small fee, which he used to spend to feed his children. After ten years, as Manjhi chipped away, people saw a cleft in the mountain, and some came to help. Gradually, the villagers started to respect him seeing the possibility in his enterprise.
Pulling off a Titanic task
After working ceaselessly for more than two decades, in 1982, Manjhi broke the last thin wall of the mountain, carving out a road 360 feet long, 30 feet wide. This road now connected the village to the other ones and reduced the travel time and difficulties to a great extent. The nearest town, Wazirganj, was now only 5 kilometers away. People from many villages in Atri could use this road. Children had to walk only a few kilometers to reach the school. Though once taunted for his efforts, Manjhi had now made life easier for people of Gehlaur.
Afterward, Manjhi began knocking on the Government’s doors, asking for the road to be tarred and connected to the main road. He again did the unimaginable to get the government’s attention. He walked along the railway line all the way to New Delhi, the capital of India. He submitted a formal request there for the development of his village.
He was given a plot of land by the government, which he donated back to set up a hospital there.
However, the road that Manjhi had made by cutting through the rock was left untarred for some further decades. The slothful and corrupt system took it some 30 years to get the road tarred.
On 17th August 2007, Manjhi died in AIIMS, New Delhi, while suffering from gall bladder cancer. The Government of Bihar organized the final rites of Manjhi, and a state funeral was given.
Recognition and Honors
For his rare feat, Manjhi became popularly known as the ‘Mountain Man’. His name was also proposed for the Padma Shree in 2006. India Post released a stamp of his in the “Personalities of Bihar” series on 26th December 2016.
In 2011, a documentary on him was directed by Kumud Ranjan, titled “The Man Who Moved the Mountain”.
In 2015, Ketan Mehta made a biopic on Manjhi’s journey. The film was titled “Manjhi – The Mountain Man” and Manjhi was played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, along with Radhika Apte who starred as Falguni Devi. The movie was much praised.
Manjhi’s deeds are referred to in the 2011 Kannada movie “Olave Mandara”. A supporting role in another Kannada film, “Bhoomi Thayiya Chochchala Maga”, was inspired by Manjhi.
The opening episode of Season 2 of Aamir Khan’s show, Satyamev Jayate, was dedicated to Dashrath Manjhi. The team of Satyamev Jayate also met the family of Manjhi and promised to provide financial aid. However, Basanti Devi, daughter-in-law of Manjhi, died due to inability to afford medical care on April 1, 2014.
Manjhi has shown us that through continuous striving to a focused direction we could do things that seem beyond possibility. It is to be remembered that Manjhi started the work out of love for his dearest wife, but continued it for the sake of people. He did it solely on his own. No monetary aid was ever offered, though at a later point a few rustics helped him with food and some support. While celebrating Manjhi, it is not to be ignored that the situation in which Manjhi and his community found themselves is not an isolated instance. In the country, there are many villages without any essential facility provided there. Usually, one does not find even a small clinic in such places, and that costs lives of the natives there. The work that Manjhi did was to be done by the government. But, the government had turned a blind eye to the woes of the rural communities. And nothing much has been changed from then. If we indeed want to honor Manjhi, we must take up from where he left. The plight of farmers and villagers must not go uncared for once. If our country has to grow, it has to be an inclusive growth, where no one is denied the basic needs of life.