In a tragic turn of events, Budhni Mejhan, a tribal woman once banished for purportedly ‘marrying’ Jawaharlal Nehru, passed away at her residence near Panchet in Jharkhand. The woman, who gained notoriety after being invited by Nehru to inaugurate the Panchet dam in 1959, faced a lifetime of challenges.
The honor bestowed upon Budhni, who was a local laborer at the dam construction site, turned into a curse as her tribal community disapproved of Nehru garlanding her during the inauguration. Despite following instructions from Damodar Valley Corporation officials, Budhni’s community considered her garlanding of Nehru as a symbolic marriage, leading to her banishment from the village.
Nehru’s insistence on 15-year-old Budhni pressing the button to signal the start of dam operations further offended the tribal community. Forced to leave her village, she found shelter in Panchet, where she later had a daughter with a local resident named Sudhir Dutta.
In 1962, Budhni faced job termination from the Damodar Valley Corporation, resorting to odd jobs for survival. In the 1980s, she sought reinstatement and met with then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Nehru’s grandson, who approved and persuaded her case. Despite the reinstatement, Budhni faced hardships and eventually superannuated in 2005.
She passed away at Panchet hospital due to a cardiac arrest. Budhni’s life, marked by exile and challenges, reflects the complex consequences of a seemingly honorable event turning into a lifetime of adversity for a tribal woman in post-independence India.
Re-reported from the article originally published in The Statesman