By Sandeep Sahu
From the dusty, tortuous roads of Kalahandi to an aircraft flying serenely 30, 000 feet above the ground, Dana Majhi has taken an incredible leap in three weeks. The man, who set off on a back-breaking trek back to his village located 60 kms away from Bhawanipatna with his dead wife’s body on his shoulders because he could not afford a few hundred rupees to hire a hearse van, is now rolling in lakhs. An embarrassment of riches has been pouring on him from all over the world after his heart-rending story made global headlines, the latest being a Rs 9 lakh bonanza from the Bahrain prince delivered to him by embassy staff in New Delhi earlier today.
Dazed by all the attention and riches bestowed on him since August 25, the poor tribal from Melghar village in Kalahandi is perhaps still trying to figure out just how much is Rs 9 lakh. It is highly unlikely that the unlettered Dana would know – even now – how many zeroes follow 1 in a lakh. The rate at which help is pouring in from all over the place, he would have to learn his maths very fast or alternatively hire an accountant to keep track of the all the contribution (he can certainly afford one now!).
But will all the money being showered on him by well-meaning people and institutions do any real good to him? Unlikely. Those who have been dealing with the world at large on this illiterate man’s behalf must be salivating at the prospect of making a killing in the process. Innocent of the ways of the world, Dana would perhaps not even realize that those who are professing their abiding concern for him today have daggers neatly tucked behind them, ready to be used at a moment’s notice. By the time Dana realizes the machinations of the village tout, the local media person, the social worker, the petty politician and sundry other do-gooders, it may be too late.
Even assuming that all these people are being guided by nothing other than empathy and humanitarian consideration in helping out Dana, will this windfall benefit him in any way? His three young daughters have now been admitted to the KISS school for tribal children in Bhubaneswar and their education will be taken care of by the institution. Even after keeping a hefty sum of money for each one of them for their marriage and other expenses, he would still be left with enough cash that is going to do him more harm than good.
Dana’s innocence could well be the biggest casualty of this veritable deluge of money, the first signs of which are already in evidence in the way he dealt with questions from the media earlier in the day. “I will deposit the amount in the passbook of my children. They will utilise the money in future after getting education at the KISS school,” said the man, who thought nothing of carrying his wife’s body on his shoulders for 10 kms just three weeks ago,
“If I had the money, I would not have suffered so much,” Dana told newsmen in Delhi. Now that he has all the money, he would certainly not suffer from deprivation. But will he remain the same Dana? Bounties like this have been known to have swept people infinitely more worldly wise than Dana off their feet. The man who has lived off his labour all his life may well feel now that he doesn’t to work any longer. He may shun his home made brew for the ‘foreign liquor’ that looks so much more attractive in its colourful bottle.
The road to vices, as they say, is paved with riches.
This writer recalls another case in Kalahandi – that of Phanas Punji - that made national headlines three decades ago. After the national and international media descended in the village one after another, Phanas Punji’s sister-in-law, who had allegedly sold her off for Rs 40 because of extreme poverty, reportedly started asking for money for every ‘photo shoot’ and haggled over the price with the buyers.
I do not doubt for a moment the good intentions of the donors. But I do apprehend that this overkill is not going to do any good to Dana in the long run. Would it not have been so much better if Dana Majhi was just given his basic needs and the rest of the money spent on building a proper road to his village, restoring the severed power supply to his village and put in place other basic amenities? Or on improving health services in the remote tribal villages of Thuamul-Rampur? Or in ensuring that no one has to carry a dear one’s body on a bicycle, trolley rickshaw or on his shoulder ever again? Or, all of this and more, if there is still some money left?