The life of a tribal woman in West Bengal became a prolonged punishment after Jawahar Lal Nehru gave her a garland in 1959.
What could be the punishment for a woman who holds a man’s hand in India? In urban centres of the country in 2016, this may seem like a useless question. But in some rural pockets, that continue to remain conservative, she could be thrown out of her village or killed even today. Imagine what could have been the situation in 57 years ago.
A tribal woman of West Bengal has been the victim of such conservativeness and fighting for prestige since 1959. It is ironic that the name of India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, who stood for progressiveness, is associated with her plight.
It so happened that Nehru had visited a West Bengal village to inaugurate a dam in 1959. On his request, the dam was inaugurated by Budhni Manjhiyan, then a 17-year-old girl. She was probably the first labourer in the country who got the opportunity to inaugurate a dam. During the programme, Nehru handed over a garland to Budhni. This one incident changed Budhni’s life forever.
Danik Bhaskar reports that at night a panchayat of the Santhali society was called to discuss the incident. To her utter shock, Budhni was told that according to tribal tradition she was now the wife of Nehru as he had given her a garland.
However, as Nehru was not a tribal, Budhni was thrown out of the village and boycotted from Santhali society on the charge of marrying a non-tribal man.
At that time, Budhni was a worker in Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC). She worked there for some time, but she was removed from there also in 1962. Later, Budhni went to Jharkhand and struggled there for seven years.
Bhaskar reports that later she met a man named Sudhir Dutta, who befriended her. However, both couldn’t marry because of fear of the society. But they remained together and now she has three children.
In 1985, Nehru’s grandson and then PM of India, Rajiv Gandhi learnt about Budhni’s story. She even went to meet Rajiv in Odisha. Later, the DVC took her back on job.
Now retired, Budhni told Bhaskar that she had visited her village after several years. She goes there even now on occasions but still she can’t see a respect in the eyes of people for her.
Budhni now wants Rahul Gandhi to get her a house and give a job to her son so that she can spend remaining years of her life in peace.