By Achyut Das
Two days back I was among the Bondas ( one of the PVTGs of our country with a population around 5000 which we used to call Primitive Tribes) and after many years. I could see the new and wide black-topped road with good bridges under construction and Jeeps with 20+ passengers, Gas Cylinders and other Market related merchandise struggling to negotiate stiff climbs! I was wondering what development has already come about. Last time I had visited, I was an witness to a whole column of Para-military Forces with the latest arms who were exercising on the winding road to confront the Maoists and checking every vehicle and human being.
I have been visiting Bonda Hills since last 40 years in different capacities and contexts. In the 90s, while I was a Member of the State Planning Board, I was asked officially to examine the Education System and Livelihood Patterns. Those days, I had visited many villages and had met many Bonds and non-Bonda to get an idea what the Government and the NGOs can do collectively to transform the dismal situation. What happened and what did not happen are different stories for me now.
This time, near the Jagannath temple at Mudulipada, a Bonda lady was sitting to get some sunshine to fight the cold air around. The educated Bonda woman who had accompanied us to take us around told that she is Budai Kirsani from Rauliguda village 7kms away from Mudulipada. She is with her new born baby. We met the husband Sukra Kirsani and with a smile he told that a boy has been born two days back and has been named Sukra as he was born on Friday. He has been wanting to take his wife and son to Khairaput ( Block Headquarters down below the Bonda Ghati) for some records but is unable to do so. We got curious about the new born child and Budai showed us. We all wanted to help her in whatever way possible and even offered her a lift to go with us to Khairaput but there was reluctance shown. Was it because of helplessness or apathy? Was there nobody or even a Health Worker /Asha Karmi/Anganwadi Worker to Guide her after walking 7 kms from Budai’s village? Where is the Bonda Development Agency gone? We were told that the Bonda Development Agency officials have shifted to Khairaput and an NGO has taken over the development activities. Villages have got roads and other infra-structures. Many young children have gone to Bhubaneswar to join a Residential School. I saw a number of motorcycles jazzing around driven by youths with fashionable dresses. No Bonda woman is in her traditional dress as all are now wearing maxis or sarees. There are many buildings around Mudulipada as we saw the old official buildings have been abandoned. The Toddy Palm trees giving Salapa Wine are growing everywhere and even in the barren hills. Changes are visible- right or wrong! One has to revisit THE BONDO HIGHLANDERS by Verrier Elwin.
But under all these situations , the conditions of Budai raised many questions and apprehensions! Under the surface of so called development, these Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups are facing immense hardship, suffering and perhaps extinction. The way they have been moving away from their own habitat to an alien world in the name of education and livelihood, the threat is there very much as it is seen across the world. The next generations of Bondas may not be called Bondas any more as already now sharply divided between the Upper Bondas and Lower Bondas! A time will be coming soon that some will declare as CIVILISED Bondas and a few will remain as still SAVAGED! Has there been a Report Card of the Government and the NGOs? There should be one for Public Scrutiny and for the knowledge of the Bondas themselves so that they can resist the trafficking of Bonda Girls and migration of Bonda boys as news do get published once in a while! We have many concerns but few solutions. The former MLA who was a well educated Bonda and who had the opportunity to see the world had shared many things with me how to develop his tribe keeping Identity and Culture in mind. He lost the election. I wonder in the era of murky politics, whether his own kiths and kins really had voted for him!
I know there are many Budais and Sukras in the Bonda Hills . Despite tears, there are smiles too which I noticed among all ages of Bondas – from school children to those who are bent with ages!
Footnote: Among our team was a dear friend who was a senior retired Government Official. He had served the Bondas 30 years back and was most qualified to visualise the narratives what was then and what is now. As he felt helpless to render some assistance to Budai and her little one, he met the CDPO at Khairaput and urged her to send a vehicle and a team to rescue Budai! I was told later on that the CDPO was sensitive enough to send a team to offer some help though the case was a complicated one as per the Government framework!