Budhni Manjhiyain, referred to as "Nehru's tribal wife" passed away on 17 November at the age of 80 and now calls are emerging from a pocket in Jharkhand for the establishment of a monument in honor of her.
The Santhali woman endured years of ostracism from her tribe. This isolation stemmed from an incident in 1959 when then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru garlanded her during the inauguration of the Panchet Dam, located near Dhanbad, when she was 16 and employed on the project.
The garlanding, intended as a mark of respect by Nehru, became a burden for Budhni as the Santhal tribals perceived it as a "marriage." Consequently, she faced social exclusion for "marrying outside her community, particularly a non-tribal," and was barred from entering her hamlet.
Budhni's tumultuous life came full circle when she passed away in a shack in Panchet, where she lived with her daughter Ratna. Local politicians, officials, and hundreds of others paid their respects to what many described as "the first tribal wife of the first PM of the country."
In light of this, there is now a plea for a memorial in her honor, to be situated next to an existing statue of Nehru in a local park. Additionally, demands have been made for a pension for Ratna, who is 60 years old, Times of India reported.
Bhairav Mandal, the chief of Panchet panchayat, and others have written to the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) management about the memorial and a residence for Ratna in the local DVC colony.
The DVC, under which the dam operates, is a public sector undertaking. Ratna's son, Bapi (35), works as an accountant with DVC and resides in nearby Maithon.
Sumesh Kumar, the deputy chief engineer of DVC at Panchet, has indicated that no decisions regarding the memorial or other requests have been made as of now. He stated, "These decisions can be taken only after consulting top officers."
Budhni's life took a turn in 1952 when her ancestral land was submerged during the dam's construction. Despite the challenges, she became one of the first contract laborers on the project.
Following Nehru's garlanding in 1959, she faced difficulties, leading to her retrenchment in 1962. Budhni later relocated to Saltora in Purulia, West Bengal, and worked as a daily-wage laborer. There, she married Sudhir Dutta.
Her life saw a positive change after narrating her ordeal to Rajiv Gandhi during his visit to Asansol in 1985. Subsequently, she was provided employment in DVC, where she retired in 2005.
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