The man who made way for progress

Dasrath Manjhi, the 'hillman of Bihar' who single-handedly cut through Gehlaur hill from 1960 to 1982, chip by chip with a chisel, to build a road to connect Atri block and Wazirganj, lives on three years after his death. 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.

Manjhi had carved a 110-metre-long, 7.6-metre-high, 9.1-metre-wide passage through the hill that cut down the distance between Atri and Wazirganj from 55 km to 15 km. He resolved to build the road after his wife died on the way to the hospital in Wazirganj.

Atri has become synonymous with Manjhi, 'pahad purush' to locals. The village Bansi Bigaha under Gehlaur panchayat, where he was born in 1934, is now known as Dasrath Nagar. Even though he had the grit and patience to cut a passage through a hill, he had to work hard to move the bureaucracy. He made innumerable rounds to the Patna Secretariat demanding metalled approach roads between Atri and Wazirganj and Atri and Gaya. Atri got the roads—but only after Manjhi's death. Detected with cancer, he was sent to AIIMS in Delhi for treatment at the expense of the state government. When he died, at 73, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had reached his village to receive his body and offered a state funeral.

Simlesh Kumar, a resident of nearby Bela village, says, "We have grown up listening to stories about Dasrath Baba. He was our superman."

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.

Pappu Kumar Singh, from a neighbouring village, says riding a motorcycle to reach Gaya used to be an arduous task a few years ago. "This entire area came into focus only because of Dasrath Manjhi," he says.

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