Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Forgotten Hero : Dashrath Majhi

A legends family languishes in Hunger

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Almost three years after the death of legendary Dashrath Majhi, a visit to the landmark created by the ‘Pahad purush’ i.e. mountain man in Dashrath Nagar, Gehlaur (Gaya) in Bihar makes one wonder how the government’s forgets their promises? The man who hailed from Mushahar community is today revered as Pahad baba. Those who have seen the primitive conditions of Mushahars and their persistent marginalization, they would certainly vouch that the recognition and acknowledgement of the work done by one among them, will go to rejuvenate the community and bring it to the life back. One does not know these facts but Dashrath Majhi’s work might make a fascinating story for young minds and the importance of commitment for a cause.

On August 17th, 2007, when Dashrath Majhi, 70, died of a prolonged illness and the Nitish Kumar government of the time took care of his treatments in AIIMS, Delhi, it looked that they would honor the words given to Dashrath Majhi and his villagers. Not only this, Baba, as Dashrath Majhi, is reverently addressed in the entire area, was asked what should be done for him. ‘Yes, we will provide 5 acres of land to your family’, the chief minister had promised. Baba that time said he did not anything for him but ‘build’ a hospital for the village. After the death of Baba, the government named the road that Baba cut through the huge mountain as Dashrath Majhi Road and the village as Dasharath Nagar. A temple is being constructed in the name of Baba which is called as Ghat.

Born in a deeply poverty entrenched family of Mangaru Majhi and Pattiya Devi in the Gahlor Ghati which was surrounded by the mountains and no connectivity of roads to the nearest town, Baba saw the difficulties of people living in Gehlor Ghati. His wife would go along with others to get water mounting the difficult terrain. He saw tremendous pain of inability for those who needed medical aid and old folks who found it difficult to climb the hill to reach the other side. The other way to reach the nearest town was by road which was about 75 kilometer. It was nearly impossible. Baba decided himself that they need some one way to reduce this and it was only possible if he would cut through the mountain and will make way for every one. While the governance was absent in the village and there was no way for the community to speak to political class to provide them roads and infrastructure. And one can understand what would have been the situation in 1960 when there were not much money and political power was still in the hands of dominant communities. So Dasharath must have felt that the only way to overcome this hurdle was to take some initiative and do the work. Hence then one fine day in 1960 he started his work. The pains and agony of people strengthened his determination particularly as his wife too had to face tremendous problems during these days. With shovel in hand, he started digging the mountains. Actually, Mushahars of the region depended a lot on stone cutting as it is their main source of livelihood. But Baba was not much doing it for commercial gains as he was keen on reducing the difficulties of his fellow villagers. It was a herculean task. The family never liked, the villagers called him mad. ‘How will this man cut such a rocky mountain? Has he gone mad? Does he has no other work to do? What is he doing”, were the scornful questions thrown at Baba. But Dasharath Majhi was determined and just did not care for these remarks. It is not that he was cutting the mountain from morning till evening. Actually, for him it was an additional work, as he had to support his family and it would have been impossible if he was not working on land or cutting stone for his survival. Whenever, he was without work or holidays, he would start cutting the stones himself. No body came to support him. He did not have the tools to cut big rocky stones; neither had he had money, the only thing that was with him, ‘courage and determination, against all the odds which exist in our communities. It was a complete madness towards his work and to relieve people from hardship.

Slowly some of the people realized that he was really into it, so they would help him with voluntary work for time to time. It is rather strange that the government and its authorities were completely unmindful of his work. It shows why a major part of India is still out of governance and people have to depend on their own self for their development. Such a major work was done by a man and his community and yet it remained unseen, unheard, unreported and unchecked. Yet, Baba completed his task by 1982 by cutting about 300 meter long and 25 ft wide mountain and therefore converting the distance of 75 kilometer to just 1 kilometer and it became easier particularly those on cycles and motor bikes to take their elderly people to the nearest town for medical aid. Today, you see streams of people using the way. Women going to forest, getting grass for their pets while motor bikers, cyclists and other villagers are using this path. And this has reduced their burden and pains. Today, Baba has slipped into folklore as a folk hero as people are constructing a temple for him. A local organization has painted the rock on the way saying that legendary Dashrath Majhi completed this herculean task of linking Ghivra mauja of Dashrath Nagar, in Gehlaur Ghati to Atara Prakhand, Wajirganj by reducing the distance from 75 kilometer to just one kilometer, in 22 years.

But after three years of death, none of the promises made by the Bihar government have been fulfilled. Baba’s lonely son Bhagirath is a physically challenged man. His daughter in law, Basanti Devi suffers from physical disability. Baba’s daughter Lavangi Devi too lives in the house along with others as they have a small semi constructed house. Daughter in law Basanti Devi cook mid day meal in the nearby primary school while her husband Bhagirath get Rs 200/- pension every month but not because of any love for Baba but for ‘disability’ reasons. The total land they got was about 1.5 acre which they got along with other villagers long back.

While the family now knows that their Baba was not just a useless mad man but did something for the society yet Basanti Devi was not amused, ‘He did nothing for us. What have we got from his work? Our children are starving and no way to educate them. The government promised us 5 acre land but it never came’. One can understand the frustration of the family members as for them the issue of the survival of their children is more important. Though they know that Baba did wonder yet they feel that the government has not really honored its words. Somewhere they feel that Baba would have asked more from the government so that they could have lived a better life.
Their Indira Awas is still incomplete. The huts are not enough to keep the family better. In one side, the family keeps the photographs of Dasharath. His son and daughter and their children live together though cook separately. Yet, they are hoping against hope as people come and seek their interview.

The situation is pathetic and though the area is open and wide yet a community can not live on ‘fresh air’. It needs work. The road network is now being developed in the area. But one wonder how long will it take. Not many efforts by the government to change the life of the people. No medical assistance, no proper school for the children.Baba’s grand daughter Lakhsmi who is nearly 15 ( I could say less than that) is a married girl. She could not get admission to Kasturba Balika Vidyalaya. She does not know why but most of the children complained about that. She can just read and write and perhaps completed her Vth standard.

The children are hungry and asking for more. The mother beat them for lack of food and virtually annoying. The house is incomplete and in a mess. Tears rolls down from Basanti Devi as she starts talking about Baba and narrate their own plight.’ People come here, ask about Baba, his work and passion, but we remain the same’. We have nothing to eat. I do not know what to tell people about Baba but if they want to see how government honors people, they can see our conditions.’ Actually, after Nitish Kumar government honored Baba, a lot of media hype was created added with Maha Dalit slogan of Bihar government. Nitish had actually called Dashrath Majhi to Patna and asked him to sit in front of him said his son Bhagirath. They were elated at this respect shown by the most powerful man of Bihar but then little did they know that politicians will do everything to gain political gains. Mushahars may not matter as voters for them but honoring Dashrath Majhi gave tremendous good will of the Dalit communities in Bihar.

The village of Dashrath Majhi need a facelift. It need not only electricity and proper road network which is coming up but also development of the community. Often, social activists working among Mushahars, blame them for their laziness and social attitude, but a man called Dashrath Majhi has given example how legends can come from any community. It is time that Bihar government honor its promises made to Dashrath Majhi, take care of the entire Mushahar community, provide them alternative livelihood and make life of Dashrath Majhi as part of the school text books. If the government of Bihar is really sincere towards its promises, it should initiate special schemes for Mushahars in the name of Dashrath Majhi and create more schools with special reference for the poor children, apart from a full fledged government hospital. That would be the best tribute to the man who moved mountain for the benefit of fellow human being and epitomize the tremendous will of human spirit.

1 comment:

ttnewton said...

What an exceptional, inspiring man! Thank you for the narrative!