Dasrath Manjhi and Dana Majhi- does something ring familiar? They are connected by the deaths of their wives. Former in Bihar, when could not find a hospital on his side of the mountain, he had to carry his pregnant and bleeding wife in a hammock and climb the hill to reach the town hospital only to find his wife dead. This incident changed the course of his life. Manjhi started attacking the hill with a vengeance and he relentlessly cut the hill for twenty two years to create a road through the mountain at once reducing the travelling distance between his village the nearest town with medical facilities from fifty five kilometres to fifteen kilometres. The latter, Dana Majhi whose name strangely and eerily sounds same as the former also had to go through a similar ordeal in a different context. His wife was undergoing treatment in a city hospital in the impoverished Kalahandi district in Orissa. She died on Tuesday night and as the hospital denied ambulance services to him for ferrying his wife’s body to his village sixty kilometres away. Majhi decided to walk. He covered the body in a piece of cloth, lunged it over his shoulders and started walking towards his village with a determination to cover the distance, a wailing twelve year daughter beside.
This much and a little bit more everyone knows by now. It is clear that Majhi walked for twelve kilometres and then some local people intervened. Sensational as it was the news flew thick and fast; district collector ordered an ambulance and cremation cost of Rs.2000/- under Rajaharischandra Scheme. The man’s determination won against the apathy of the hospital authorities and it did create flutters in the political circles of Orissa.
(Dasrath Manjhi, the Mountain Man)
It was an unfortunate incident. True. But what makes it more unfortunate and a real tragedy is not just the hospital authorities denying him ambulance service and not even the man’s determination to walk with the dead body over his shoulders. The tragedy lies in the fact that he was allowed to walk like that for twelve kilometres by the local people! It was at the twelfth kilometre they could find people left with some conscience in their existence. Their intervention turned out to be crucial in changing the course of events. But what were the people doing in the first twelve kilometres? Did they walk through absolutely deserted areas? Did they pass through the villages with similarly poverty stricken people? Or did they pass through some philosophers’ streets where they deem death as a natural culmination in whichever form it comes? Or did they go by such streets where rich and powerful lived and thought that death would never dare even to look at them?
Those first twelve kilometres that Majhi walked with his wife’s dead body and a minor daughter in tow are the ideal sample that could measure up the totality called India which claims to be moving from development to development, leaving its subjects to rot, die or commit suicide with nothing to hold on to or redeem themselves. In an India where cow protection is much more important than human protection, imaginary representation of a country in the form of a goddess and protecting her as the prime aim of each confirming citizen than protecting their own female folk, Majhis are one day’s breaking news and next day’s trash. I see a lot of breast beating on this incident in Orissa in social media. But none of these breast beaters has asked about the first twelve kilometres’ response. The day we correct the first twelve kilometres, India will be alright because majority of us prefers to live in those first twelve kilometres. And Majhis carrying dead bodies of their hapless women is not the kind of first scene that we would like to wake up to. We need the visions of some winking babas who would help us breathe easy and fart easy.