There are over 1.2 billion of us Indians, most living in rural India; many, in urban slums. Every day, millions of our fellow countrymen struggle against the odds to eke out a life of dignity. The others are still searching for answers, thinking up solutions to hurdles, to make life better for our fellow citizens.
This is the story of a man who did not just think. He was among India’s poorest of poor. He decided, if those in power would not help his people, he would. This is a man who wanted to do it himself! This is the story of Dashrath Manjhi: the man who moved a mountain, so his people could reach civilization (including a doctor) in time.
The hamlet of Gehlour
It was 1960. Landless labourers, the Musahars lived amid rocky terrain in the remote Atri block of Gaya, Bihar, in Northern India. In the hamlet of Gehlour, they were regarded the lowest of the low in a caste-ridden society and denied the basics: water supply, electricity, a school, a medical centre. A 300-foot tall mountain – Gehlour Ganj – loomed between them and civilization.
Like all the Musahar men, Dashrath Manjhi, worked on the other side of the mountain. At noon, his wife Phaguni would bring his lunch. As they had no road, the trek took hours over the mountain. Dashrath tilled fields for a landlord on the other side. He would quarry stone. And in a few hours from then, he would be tired and hungry. He would watch and wait for Phaguni.
One of those days, she would come to him empty handed, injured. As the sun harsh sun beat down, Phaguni tripped on loose rock. Her water pot shattered. She slid down several feet, injuring her leg. Hours past noon, she limped to her husband. He rushed to chastise her for being late. But on seeing her tears, he made a decision.
Challenging a mountain
Dashrath sold his goats, and bought a hammer, chisel, and crowbar. He climbed to the top, and started chipping away at the mountain. Years later, he would recount, “That mountain had shattered so many pots, claimed lives. I could not bear that it hurt my wife. If it took all my life now, I would carve us a road through the mountain.”
Word spread. Chipping at the mountain, he quit his wage job. His family often went without food. Then, Phaguni fell ill. The doctor was in Wazirganj, 75 kilometres over the mountain. Unable to make the journey, she died. But her death only spurred him on.
It was not easy. Unyielding, the mountain would cascade rocks at him. Hurt, he would rest and start again. At times, he helped people carry their things over the mountain for a small fee, money to feed his children. After 10 years, as Manjhi chipped away, people saw a cleft in the mountain; some came to help. In 1982, Gehlour was in for a surprise.
Baba, the revered man
Manjhi broke through a thin wall of rock and walked out into an open space. After 22 years, Dashrath Das Manjhi, the outcast landless labourer had conquered the mountain: he had carved out a road 360 feet long, 30 feet wide. Wazirganj, with its doctors, jobs, and school, was now only 5 kilometres away. People from 60 villages in Atri could use his road. Children had to walk only 3 kilometres to reach school. Grateful, they began to call him ‘Baba‘, the revered man.
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.
SO MANY MORE MOUNTAINS
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.
Manjhi’s legacy, his inspiration, though, lives on. It lives on among the thousands of Indians who are making a difference to their fellowmen, fighting new battles, overcoming challenges. It lives on in so many of you who are moving your own mountains. Manjhi showed us that the real hero lies inside you. It’s you who can rise up to the moment.
How often do you make the choice to make the change? This Republic Day, we’re pledging to make 2015 the year of the Do-It-Yourself Indian. It’s time to pick up the hammer ourselves and start chipping away at the insurmountable mountains that surround us.
Start with recognizing the common heroes, share their stories and inspire many others. Start with recognizing the Mountain Man. Spread this Spirit of Do-It-Yourself: www.thunderclap.it/projects/21371-recognize-our-common-heroes