We all have mountains standing in our path, making life more difficult than it should be. But what if a literal mountain, three hundred feet tall, was standing between you and the rest of the world? Dashrath Manjhi and his village were separated from society by a literal mountain, but Dashrath decided to conquer that mountain over the course of 22 years.
Dashrath Manjhi lived in the village of Gehlaur, in Gaya, Bihar, India with his wife, Falguni Devi, and their son, Bhagirath Manjhi. Gehlaur was, and still is, one of the poorest cities in India. There are no schools, hospitals, or even electricity in the village. Dashrath himself, although working in fields and raising goats to bring in some income, “was among India’s poorest of poor” (Built a Road). In Gehlaur, as in many nearby villages, the women had to make a difficult journey every day to fetch water for themselves and their families. They had to hike over a 300 foot tall mountain that stood between their village and the nearest river. One day, Dashrath’s wife was returning from the long, timely trip with water for her family, when she tripped on a loose rock and injured her leg. During her slow recovery, Falguni fell ill. The nearest doctor was about 45 miles away. Falguni, too sick and still healing, was unable to make the trip over the mountain. She died from the lack of medical treatment. This tragedy is what initially inspired Dashrath Manjhi to carve a path through the enormous mountain, beginning his journey as a moral hero.
Grief-stricken and angered by the difficulties that this mountain posed, Dashrath Manjhi dedicated his life and sacrificed much to carve out the mountain. He was so dedicated to the daunting task that he sold his goats in order to buy a hammer and a chisel needed for the feat set before him. Working in the fields during the day and hammering at the mountain at night was difficult, even for young Dashrath who was “then in his early twenties” (Raman and Sehgal). He decided that making a safer environment for the people in his village, nearby villages, and for generations of travelers was more important than bringing in a steady income. As a result, he quit his day job. Occasionally, he would carry luggage over the mountain for travelers in order to earn some money, but his family sometimes went without food. He was so dedicated to working on the mountain that he moved his house closer to chisel a path through it day and night. Even with the extra working hours, Dashrath spent twenty-two years of his life completing his goal.
“When I started hammering the hill, people called me a lunatic, but that only steeled my resolve.” – Dashrath Manjhi
Spending decades trying to accomplish a task seen as nearly impossible is difficult, especially when others in the community don’t agree with what you are doing. There were many people in Dashrath’s village that made fun of him because they thought he was crazy. Dashrath Manjhi recounts, “When I started hammering the hill, people called me a lunatic, but that only steeled my resolve.” According to the book, The Other Country: Dispatches from the Mofussil by Mrnāla Pānde, “The villagers, when word went around, laughed at Manjhi, and said he was nuts. Why spoil womenfolk, some winked. After all, hadn’t generations of women fetched water from the other side? What was so special about his wife? Women were made to fetch and carry, weren’t they?”(177). Dashrath Manjhi was teased, jeered at, and made fun of, but he had the courage and determination to ignore them and keep working. It paid off too, because after enduring the taunts for a while, Manjhi says, “There were quite a few [villagers] who lent me support later by giving me food and helping me buy tools.” If he had given in to the rest of his community’s bad attitude, he would never have achieved his dream.
In 1982, Manjhi’s dream of chiseling a path through the mountain to make the trip to the other side safer and shorter was finally achieved. People from 60 different villages were able to use his chiseled road to travel to the river, hospital, and school. Thousands of people from his village and others like it use his road every day. The distance of their daily journeys were cut from over 35 miles to less than 2 miles, using Dashrath’s new road. The villagers call him ‘Baba’, meaning the revered man, and people around the world know him best as ‘The Mountain Man’. He said, “That mountain had shattered so many pots, claimed lives. I could not bear that it hurt my wife. If it took all my life now, I would carve us a road through the mountain” (Built a Road). He knew how many people he would be helping with his feat, and his love for those people is what kept him going for twenty-two years.
After achieving his goal of making the path safe, Dashrath still wasn’t satisfied; “He began knocking on doors, asking for the road to be tarred, connected to the main road. He walked along the railway line all the way to New Delhi, the capital, collecting signatures of station masters in a book” (Built a Road). In New Delhi, he submitted a petition for his road to be tarred, and for a hospital to be built and water to be piped into his village. Furthermore, he went to the Chief Minister of Bihar, Junta Durbar, to see if his road could be paved. The Chief Minister, honored to meet Dashrath, got up from his chair and offered it to him. The government gave him 5 acres of land as a reward, but he donated it for the building of a hospital. He said, “I do not care for these awards, this fame, the money. 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” (Moved a Mountain). Sadly, Dashrath never got to see his finished road, which was finally paved in 2012. He passed away from gallbladder cancer on August 17, 2007, but he will be remembered for giving up everything of his own to help others.
“If I did not, no one would.” – Dashrath Manjhi
Dashrath Manjhi is a moral hero because he dedicated a portion of his life to fulfilling a dream, showed courage and determination, and helped many people. He also inspired many others in India and around the world to make a change for the better, no matter the dedication or courage required. When talking about his reasoning behind the dedication and determination, Dashrath said, “I started this work out of love for my wife, but continued it for my people. If I did not, no one would” (Moved a Mountain). Nobody else would dare to commit to the astounding task set before him, so he assumed it as his own job. If more people would act on their love for others, as Dashrath Manjhi did, society would be more prosperous and more cheerful.
[box type=”bio”]This article was written by K. Kingsley, winner of the 2015 Moral Heroes High School Essay Contest.
We want to thank her for sharing this inspirational story of Dashrath Manjhi, and her efforts to inspire others to be heroic.[/box]
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The Man Who Moved a Mountain