I’d missed this news 5 years ago. a small report in HT to commemorate a man’s obsession:
Dashrath Manjhi, the septuagenarian ‘mountain man’ of Gehlour who sat on the chair of chief minister for a shortwhile, died at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi on Friday evening. He was suffering from cancer of gall bladder. His body is being brought to Gaya by Purashottam Express on Saturday. Condoling the death of Manjhi, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced State funeral for the ‘mountain man’. The last rites will be performed either at Gaya or village.
Manjhi was admitted to the AIIMS on July 23 at the behest of the Chief Minister, with the state government bearing the cost of his treatment. On Wednesday, he was shifted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) after his condition deteriorated.
Manji shot into limelight after he constructed a 360 feet long, 30 feet high and 25 feet wide passage through Gehlour hills with a hammer, chisel and nails working day and night for 22 years from 1960 to 1982. His feat reduced the distance between Atri and Wazirganj blocks of Gaya district from 75 km to just one km, bringing him international acclaim.
Perhaps a little before that Tehelka had an article on him:
In 1959, Manjhi recounted, this resulted in a family tragedy on the treacherous slope. “My wife, Faguni Devi, was seriously injured while crossing the hill to bring me water; I worked then on a farm across the hills. That was the day I decided to carve out a proper road through this hill,” he told us. The mission he had set himself meant that he had to drop his wage-earning daily work — his family suffered and he himself often went without food. But his wife was not to see the fruits of his labour — a short while later, she fell ill and died as Manjhi could not get her to the hospital in time. “My love for my wife was the initial spark that ignited in me the desire to carve out a road. But what kept me working without fear or worry all those years was the desire to see thousands of villagers crossing the hill with ease whenever they wanted,” Manjhi said. “Though most villagers taunted me at first, there were quite a few who lent me support later by giving me food and helping me buy my tools.” Today, the villagers have nothing but gratitude for Gaya’s mountain man, known almost universally now as Sadhuji.
Dashrath Manjhi belonged to Bihar’s Musahar community, regarded as the lowest among the state’s Scheduled Castes. While other Dalits in Bihar had at least some land rights under the erstwhile zamindari system, the Musahars never enjoyed any such. Nearly 98 percent of the state’s 1.3 million Musahars are landless today. Not even one percent of them are literate, which makes them the community with the country’s lowest literacy rate. For many of them, the day’s main meal still comprises roots, snails or rats, from which the community’s name is derived.
After Manjhi completed his road, he worked tirelessly for the betterment of his community. Among his other efforts, he managed to persuade nearly 50 Musahar families of his village to settle on government- granted land, although most of them were unwilling to leave their old homes. But when Manjhi started living on the allotted land, the rest followed suit. This new settlement is now known as Dashrath Nagar. Manjhi’s other efforts have been less successful. Despite his herculean feat, the Bihar government has given him only token appreciation and insincere help.
Himself landless, he made a petition once for property on which to build a hospital. Then chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav allotted him a five-acre plot in a village called Karzania — the people of the village never allowed him to take possession as they were using the land as a grazing ground. More recently, the Bihar government recommended Manjhi’s name for the Padma Bhushan. This never materialised, nor did Nitish Kumar’s promised support for a road Manjhi wanted from Wazirganj to Gahlaur. Government sources say the forest department had refused permission for the road, claiming that Manjhi had violated regulations by cutting away at the hill without the department’s permission. The Padma Bhushan was reportedly denied to Manjhi because of claims made by certain quarters in the bureaucracy that he did not actually carve out the hill road single-handedly. The villagers who benefited from his labour were outraged at these reports.
After building pucca roads between Atri and Wazirganj and Atri and Gaya, the government is about to open the six-bed Dasrath Manjhi Hospital, which will cater to at least 50 villages.
Everybody is now waiting for the six-bed Dasrath Manjhi Hospital to open in Dasrath Nagar. Villagers still have to travel seven kilometres to reach the crowded Atri block hospital. An additional public healthcare centre providing OPD services at Gehlaur is all that they have in the name of medical care.