eNarada, Bubaneswar, October 1, 2016
As Dana Majhi walked with his wife’s corpse on shoulders, his plight made headlines globally as to how tribals were living in India even in the 21st century era. But, little did we know as to what happened the previous night and why Dana was forced to walk? Here is the first and detailed point by point account of that fateful day which changed Dana’s life forever.
KIIT & KISS Founder Dr. Achyuta Samanta has provided free education to Dana Majhi’s(extreme right)children Chandini(second from right) Sonai ( thirrd from right) and Pamela (who is sitting in the lap of Dr. Samanta)
Dana was a poor Khond tribal from a remote village in Kalahandi district, Odisha. He would collect and sell fire wood for a living. He was so poor that his family couldn’t afford to eat a proper meal and hence would end up eating petals, leaves, rhizomes, rootlets or kernels on a daily basis. Dana’s family whose mother tongue was Kui language would send his first daughter Chandini to a nearby school. When we say nearby-Chandini had to walk four kilometres inside a forest where she was initially studying in a school run by an NGO. However, after a few years, even that school closed down and Chandini (12) along with two of her sisters; Sonai (10) and Premela (6) would help her mother in daily chores.
On August 21st, Dana’s wife Ms Amangi Majhi’s body temperature started to raise. As the fever increased, Dana’s family tried locally known herbs to treat her but couldn’t bring down the fever. On August 22nd, Dana decided to take his wife to a bigger hospital which was located in Bhawanipatna, which was located at a distance of 60 km from his village. The poor man had to borrow a loan of Rs 3,500 from the villagers. Of this, he had to spend Rs 3,000 alone on hiring a vehicle to reach the Bhawanipatna District Headquarters Hospital (DHH).
If reaching the DHH was a tough task for Dana, his bigger task was to get his wife admitted as doctors were reluctant. “One of the doctors asked us to shift my mom to a bigger hospital which was in Bhubaneswar, But, my dad said we were clearly not in a position. Though we reached the hospital by 9 AM, my mom could be admitted only at 2.30 PM. She was immediately made to lie on the bare floor. She was administered drips and my father was asked to get medicines from a nearby shop. My dad was left with only Rs 500 now and he had to spend the entire amount on the medicines. When he came back, the doctors again asked him to pay for blood test and X-ray. But, clearly, we had no money. We could then spot a fellow tribal who was generous by offering Rs 500 and this amount was sufficient for both the reports. But, by now, it seems that my mom had a premonition of her death. She called my father and told him about her two last wishes. The first one was not to throw her body in case of her death and secondly, to take care of all the three daughters,” recalls Chandini Majhi, who spoke eNarada at length from Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), from where she is currently being educated.
At 2AM on August 23rd, Amangi breathed her last. Dana was literally shaken by his wife’s death and now wanted to take back the body to his village. He tried to wake up the security officials seeking their help for an ambulance or a hearse van but none of them responded. The hospital officials told Dana that as his wife had died, he should immediately vacate with the body. So, Dana had to pull up his clothes and a lungi and tried to wrap the body. As he started to bring the body outside the hospital, many tried to stop him to check if Dana was stealing something. Every time, he had to open the corpse and show it to the officials and only then, he was let outside. In fact, Dana was too scared to take the body at that time, says his daughter. “My dad was so tensed that he didn’t know what to do. He was wondering if he had to abandon the corpse midway. But, I cried and reminded my dad that we have to fulfil her last wish at any cost. My dad too nodded his head and started moving. By now, it was 5 AM and we could see a person brushing his teeth trying to offer help to us by arranging a vehicle. But, when he got to know that we didn’t have any money, even he abandoned his help. A little ahead, we were stopped by a police jeep and the constable asked us what we were carrying. When we explained him our plight, he said we could not take the body unless it is properly covered. So, I had to take out an old saree of my mom from the bag and wrap it again. I was literally inconsolable. On one hand, I had lost my mom and the other hand, I could see that her body was being carried by dad on his shoulder. No one was ready to help us. For the last 36 hours, we have been treated like dogs,” recalled Chandini.
By now, the news of Dana carrying a corpse spread soon and the news reached a local TV reporter who rushed to the spot and offered help. Meanwhile, Dana encountered a forest official who requested Dana not to carry the body through the forest (which was a short cut) and paid him Rs 1,000 instead. Meanwhile, the journalist had arranged for an ambulance from a local NGO Balaji Mandira Surakshya Samiti for which a local businessman had paid for the fuel. By now, Dana had walked 16 kilometres. Even after taking an ambulance, the vehicle could not reach Dana’s village due to poor road conditions. By now, the villagers had gathered and helped Dana in the cremation.
By August 24, Dana’s plight had hit headlines. But, Dana’s woes were far from getting over. He was now summoned to Bhawanipatna for an official inquiry. The Kalahandi district administration officials reprimanded Dana for taking away the corpse without the knowledge of the hospital staff. Even Dana alleged that Kalahandi collector D Brundha questioned him as to whether he had killed his wife.
However, things started to turn Dana’s favour when KIIT & KISS founder Dr Achyuta Samanta offered help. On September 16, Dana boarded his flight to New Delhi (sponsored by KISS) to meet the Bahrain Embassy officials who gifted him a Rs 8 lakh cheque. Speaking to media, Dana said that no individual in this world should face the situation he had faced. He thanked Dr Samanta for being like a God to him and helping him at his tough times. The Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) has provided free education to three daughters of Dana Majhi. With this, Dana Majhi is a relieved man and had thanked Dr Samanta for his timely and humanitarian gesture. Chandini, Sonai and Premela are different persons today. They feel pride in wearing a school uniform and are provided with free formal education.
KISS was now planning to start a branch of KISS in Kalahandi, but after Dana Majhi’s incident came to light KISS shall speed up the work and shall make the branch operational by next year. The local tribal organisations also urged the KISS to admit 100 more children from Dana Majhi’s Village and neighbouring villages.