The isolated life of the Bondas

| Updated on May 10, 2019

A forest-dwelling tribal community in Odisha still awaits basic amenities in a fast-changing world

Tangible development eludes Odisha’s endangered Bonda tribe, classified as one of India’s Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). Known for their distinctive cultural traditions, the Bondas are divided into two groups: the Lower Bondas, who live in south Odisha’s Malkangiri district bordering Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and the Upper Bondas, who live in the hilly terrains of the remote villages in the district. According to the 2011 census, there are 12,231 Bondas and they speak Remo, one of the Mundari group of languages spoken by Munda peoples in India. They have preserved their social customs and traditions in the face of modern civilisation.

Despite the formation of the Bonda Development Agency (BDA) in 1976, even basic amenities such as clean drinking water continue to elude them. During summer, each morning they wander around the forested hills for hours in search of water. Literacy levels are low — of the 226 children in Mudulipada village, only 51 attend school. Malnutrition deaths are rampant, as only a handful of children and pregnant women receives food and nutrition supplements under the government’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), according to the Khairput-based NGO Spread. The healthcare system is conspicuous by its absence, even as diarrhoea and malaria take their toll on the people. The nearest market is 27km from the village. Even the few interventions by the BDA are constantly disrupted as the Khairput block — located on the tri-junction of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — is a hotbed of Naxalite insurgency.

Tanmoy Bhaduri is a Kolkata-based independent photojournalist who focuses on social, cultural and environmental issues

Published on May 10, 2019

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