GAHLOR GHATI (GAYA): Over four decades ago, a frail, landless farmer got hold of a chisel and a hammer and decided to change the face of his village nestled in the rocky hills of Gaya. Dashrath Manjhi tore open a 300-feet-high hill to create a one-km passage.
Manjhi knew it would he easier to move a mountain than an apathetic government. He knew writing to the powers-that-be would only leave the hill tied in red tape. Instead, Manjhi, then in his early 20s, took up a chisel and hammered at the rocks for 22 years.
This feat, part of local folklore now, stemmed from Manjhi’s love for his wife. For, when she slipped off the rocks while getting food for him as he worked in a field beyond the hill and broke her ankle, it became a burning passion to tame the formidable hills that virtually cut his village off from civilisation.
And he completed the Herculean task — creating a short-cut which reduced a long and arduous journey from his village Gahlor Ghati to Wazirganj to a walkable distance.
Manjhi hasn’t forgotten the public ridicule when he began hammering at the hill. “They called me a pagal but that steeled my resolve,” he says.
Even his wife and parents were against this “adventure,” especially when he sold his goats to buy a chisel, a hammer and rope. But, by then, Manjhi was a man possessed. He shifted his hut close to the hill so he could work all day and night, chipping away, little by little. “I did not even bother to eat,” he says.
With most of the cultivable land and shops across the hill, villagers had to cross it many times a day, braving dangers.
In 1982, twenty-two years after he had started out, Manjhi walked through a clear flat passage — about 16-feet wide — to the other side of the hill. But his victory was tinged with sadness. His wife, who inspired him to take on this task, was not by his side. “She died of illness. We could not take her to a hospital on time,” says Manjhi.
But, the villagers were there. They got him sweets, fruits and all that they could afford. Says Ram Avatar Yadav of Bhitra village: “We grew up hearing stories of the man who wants to move a mountain. Today, it’s a reality and a boon for me.”
But, his family members are sore. “He hasn’t done anything for us. We are still struggling to make ends meet,” says his daughter Laongi Devi. But, Manjhi wouldn’t agree. “My hard work should benefit thousands,” he says.
This hand-carved passage through the hill remains the only sustainable change the village has ever chanced upon. Tubewells were installed, but they ran dry. Electric poles were put up, but the cables never came. And a five-acre plot given by former CM Lalu Prasad to Manjhi for a hospital still lies barren.
Septuagenarian Manjhi hasn’t given up. “I met CM Nitish Kumar recently. He has promised to develop the passage so that even a car can pass and will connect my village to Gaya. And, he told me that I will lay the foundation stone,” he says.