This is the story of an ordinary man.
He was an outcast, a landless labourer who had to trek across an entire mountain every day, just to reach the farm that he worked on. It was a treacherous trek, and led to accidents often. His people needed help, there were lives at stake every day. He decided, if no one would help his people, he would. Then, without pausing for a thought, he went ahead and did just that with his bare hands.
This is the story of Dashrath Manjhi: the man who moved a mountain, so that his people could reach a doctor in time.
The community of Gehlour
It was 1960. Landless laborers, the Musahars, lived amid rocky terrain in the remote Atri block of Gaya, Bihar, in northern India. In the community 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 center.
A 300-foot tall mountain loomed between them and all the basic facilities that they had always longed for.
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.
Phaguni, Dashrath’s wife, prepared for her treacherous climb up the mountain. She wrapped the ‘rotis’, filled a container with a thin curry, and bundled the food into a square of cloth. She picked a small pot of water, and hoisted it on her head. Her children sat playing by their hut in the small Musahar settlement in the mountain’s shadow.
He would watch and wait for Phaguni. That day, she would come to him empty handed, injured. As the harsh sun beat down, Phaguni tripped on loose rock, and was badly injured. Her water pot shattered. She slid down several feet, injuring her leg. Hours past noon, she limped to her husband. He was angry at her for being late.
But on seeing her tears, he made a decision. He decided that he was not going to wait for anyone to solve his problems, he was going to do-it-himself.
He cut through the mountain with just a hammer, a chisel and crowbars
Dashrath bought a hammer, chisel, and crowbar. He had to sell his goats, which meant a lower income for his family. He climbed to the top, and started chipping away at the mountain. Years later, he would recount,
Word spread far and wide. He would start early in the morning, chip the mountain for a few hours, then work on the fields, and come back to work on the mountain again. He would hardly sleep. The villagers gradually began to respect him, and started donating food to his family. He eventually quit his wage job, and started spending as much time as he could, breaking the mountain.
Then, Phaguni fell ill. The doctor was in Wazirganj, which stood just on the other side of the mountain, but the road leading to it was 75 kilometers long. Unable to make the journey, she passed away. Her death not only enraged him more, it spurred him on.
It was not an easy task. He would often get hurt by the rocks falling from the unyielding mountain. He would rest and then 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 and some came to help.
In 1982, Gehlour was in for a surprise
They started calling him ‘Baba’
Manjhi broke through that last thin wall of rock, and walked into the other side of the mountain. After 22 years, Dashrath Das Manjhi, the common man, the landless laborer, had broken 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 kilometers away. People from 60 villages in Atri could use his road. Children had to walk only 3 kilometers to reach school. Grateful, they began to call him ‘Baba’, the revered man.
But Dashrath did not stop there. He began knocking on the Government’s doors, asking for the road to be tarred and connected to the main road. He did the unthinkable to get the government’s attention, he walked along the railway line all the way to New Delhi, the capital. He submitted a petition there, for his road, for a hospital for his people, a school and water. In July 2006, Dashrath 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 honor for a man of Manjhi’s social status.
The government rewarded his efforts with a plot of land; Manjhi promptly donated the land back for a hospital. They also nominated him for the ‘Padma Shree’, but the 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 had conquered a mountain lost his battle with cancer. All his life he had toiled for his people and for no personal gain.
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 getting the necessary treatment on time.
Now, it’s your turn
Manjhi’s legacy, his inspiration, did not die with him. It lives among the thousands of Indians who are facing challenges every day, making a difference to their fellowmen, fighting battles and triumphing over the odds. His legacy lives on in so many of you who are conquering your own mountains.
How often have you looked at a problem and said “I’m not going to wait for the authorities, I’m going to solve it myself!”? How often do you make the CHOICE to make the CHANGE happen?
This Republic Day, Milaap is 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 seemingly insurmountable mountains that surround us.
Today, India needs you to Do-It-Yourself!
First published on The Better India website