Tribal rights activists, Gadadhar Parida and Charudutta Panigrahi believe that in the last seven decades and more, after many ‘convenient’ map-makings, there has been a constant effort to destroy tribals and their lives. They still hold the keys to the rental economy, specifically for Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, parts of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and the North East. The tribals, who are left behind and set out in pursuit of creature comforts, remain the guardians of flora and fauna, below which lie the sparkle of billions of dollars.
The activists believe that it has been ensured that tribals get relegated to being defined as ‘backward communities’ so that we as privileged citizens, can intervene with our largesse, which we think they need but they know they don’t. This is akin to us rushing back to our paternal property for an emergency bail out, when we are choked by our debt-ridden city existence. Déjà vu. With passing days, it is becoming increasingly chaotic for tribal communities in the mineral haven of Koraput in Odisha. The haven has attracted ravens. We have been successful in finally ‘breaking’ them. If we do not make cohesive communities fritter away, we will be rendered jobless, penniless, and worthless, believe the activists.
According to a report by Down to Earth, the activists believe that there always had been a disciplined and organised leadership style in these communities, till we tampered and wrecked indigenous societies. During any calamity in a village, people tend to shift to a new place because they believe they have incurred the wrath of their deity. Any community adversity like an epidemic or fire or ill-health of children is a bad omen and the elders in the community are convinced that the deity wants them to abandon the village. Accordingly, the enterprising of the lot, ventures out to find a new place. He explores, discovers, starts a new settlement and becomes the obvious choice for the village headman. He becomes the Nayak and the system becomes hereditary.
The activists also mention the three crucial elements of their lifestyle:
- Unbridled independence to villagers, including exemplary gender equality
- Community living, with no individual asset holding
- Collective livelihoods mechanisms like community farming
They believe that the indigenous communities are much more united and bonded than the others who have divided themselves and all the algorithms by aiming at profiling, dividing and creating a new world of fakes.
They also mention an Odia saying – ଚେଇଁ ଶୋଇବ ଯିଏ ତାକୁ ଉଠେଇବ କିଏ ,which translates as “who can wake up someone who pretends to be sleeping while awake?”.
They also point out that crime against women or gender-based violence, burglary, cheating was never known in the communities. It was simple, communal living. The mix of native millets, pulses, legumes and oil seeds grown on small shift-and-burn patches on hill slopes, locally known as dongar (the clear patches) made their diets super healthy. Non-communicable, lifestyle diseases were not known, as recently as a few years ago. They depended on the valley — the outside market for cloth, salt, kerosene and the delicacy of dried fish, intermittently. They had everything and so did not ever need money.
However, due to public schemes and the lure of money, they believe, the community became political. Today, the community leaders are trained to engage in bitter, schismatic and corrupt governance. “We need them and so we penetrated their self-sustained system, created artificial needs, peddled ‘development’, and finally got them addicted to our tokenism. Tokenism is the new opiate of life. We have successfully spiked credulous lives with the poison of deceitful politics. If development was well meaning, then there was no place for politics,” said the report.
“Is holding a smart phone, riding a bike, or getting glued to porn in the name of OTT, development? The ward member in a village has all the whereabouts of girls being trafficked out of the village or youths getting into organised crime. How do we sensitise the ward member that due to his or her complicity, a whole generation in getting wiped out? Do our civil society organisations go and spend time with the community leaders? Do our Harvard heading ‘smart fellows in public policy and governance’ care to work with them? Do we discuss threadbare the issues of the communities in our endless, wisdom-spewing Zoom meetings?” they question. And it for us to answer.