Dana Majhi’s trembling hands held on to the Rs 8.87 lakh cheque that he received from Bahrain’s prime minister, Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa. Barely able to talk in front of the flashing cameras and numerous journalists who had queued up to interview him at Delhi’s Ashoka Hotel, Majhi was visibly nervous with the attention.
Majhi hit the headlines in August when he was pictured carrying his wife’s dead body from the Bhawanipatna district hospital at Kalahandi in Odisha, one of India’s poorest districts, and walking for almost 10 kms with his daughter Chandni. His plight reflected India’s failing healthcare system and the highlighted government insensitivity towards the poor.
Majhi was refused an ambulance after his 42-year-old wife Amang Dei died of tuberculosis and malaria. Helpless, he wrapped his wife’s corpse in a blanket, put her on his shoulder and decided to walk towards his village, around 45 kms from the hospital. It was only when an OTV reporter, who was alerted by bystanders, called up authorities to arrange for an ambulance did Majhi receive assistance.
The Bhubaneswar-based Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), the largest school for adivasis in India, came forward to help Majhi and other villagers in the area. They offered Majhi’s three daughters free education and got Bahrain’s prime minister to assist Majhi financially. Achyut Samanta, founder of KISS, had received Bahrain’s top civilian award – Isa Award for Service to Humanity – last year.
Speaking to The Wire, Samanta said: “We felt that it was really important for us to come forward to help Majhi at this juncture. Not only for symbolic value but also to spread a humanitarian message that KISS has always believed in. Our good relationship with Bahrain only helped us put things in place very easily.”
The Wire caught up with Majhi when he was in Delhi to receive his cheque. He talked about his life, his village economy and how none of the government relief schemes reach his village.