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Odisha: Disappearing villages and tribesmen of Niyamgiri Hills - Part II
Describing the lost histories of the villages of Ankurbadi, Haimandi and Dohli, Shripati says, "After some people of Ankurbadi died, other villagers deserted the village and went elsewhere. Nobody kept an account of those people. As there were some disturbances during the worship of Goddess Dharani Penu in Haimandi, several others died affected by a plague. In Dohli, two brothers had gone to the jungle for hunting and, after two days, were found dead there. After this incident, that village was also abandoned."

Shripati recalled from what he had heard and added that nobody had recorded all these details.

But the most painful situation is that in Khambeshi, the number of widows is on the rise. "Seventy per cent women in this village are widows, but it is sad and unfortunate that the administrative officials haven't yet paid any attention to it and haven't taken necessary steps," said Kumar Samihal.

In Niyamgiri, 65-year-old Jhita Kuturika is living a nomadic life and searching for his joyful days of a well-developed past. In the mirror of his memory, he sees the terrible scenes of the previous few years. Jhita has kept alive in his heart the reminiscences of him cremating the bodies of his wife and child and watching them burn to ashes. His family used to live in the nearby village of Ankurbadi and spend its days in joy and laughter. Living amongst neighbours and near and dear ones, he was enjoying a tribal lifestyle. But his world came crashing down. An unknown disease swept through and wiped out his family. Jhita Kuturika lost his near and dear ones including his wife and children.

"Jikashika Kuli and two other villagers along with all their family members died. My brother's family and two children of mine also died in that unknown disease. The dread of that mysterious illness spread throughout the village. To save my life I came away to Serkapadi from Ankurbadi. In Serkabadi, my wife passed away and all alone in my life, I shifted to Kesherpadi villages. About 17-18 years ago, my near and dear ones and all the members of my family passed away to another world. Every year, this mysterious illness spreads into our villages and kills several people," says another affected tribesman.

About 17-18 years ago, having lost his near and dear ones, Jhita Kuturika is roaming the forests of Niyamgiri alone, as a nomad. The untimely deaths in Ankurbadi and its nearby villages are termed by some as the pitiable result of superstitions. But the reality is that, even after 70 years of independence, the government has not been able to provide a pedestrian path or any means to earn a livelihood. The people of this region are deprived of simple healthcare and commuting facilities and are living an abject life of darkness.

As a result, every year people here die of diseases like diarrhoea and malaria. The government, which is talking big about progress, has not been able to provide a little salt or even a matchbox to this region. Drinking water is better not spoken of. For a little salt and a matchbox, people have to walk from Jharpa village to Panimunda, a distance of 16 kilometres through the jungles. Neither any administrative official nor any elected representative ever sets foot on these villages.

"We have no means of livelihood, throughout the year we don't get a drop of drinking water, and there is no walking path to walk down to some place. Leaders merely hold meetings and give speeches in Panimunda. Administrative officers also conduct and execute their plans and programmes there. But we the citizens and voters are denied our basic facilities and rights," said in a sad voice Bondelika Dinju, a physically handicapped man from Jharpa, a village which is soon going to disappear.

In the struggle for life and death, Bondelika Dinju is lying in Jharpa with the expectation of help and support from the government. In his crippled state, old age seems to have grasped him even while he is young. He has no strength to walk on his legs. Eating fruits of the jungle, drinking water from the stream, taking support of a walking stick, and bearing immense pain, Bondelika had once walked 19 kilometres to the government office to get some disability allowance. Faced with disappointment there, he had to retrace those 19 kilometres agonisingly. The administrative officer had told point blank that one does not get an allowance if he is physically disabled.

"To get the disability allowance you have to arrange a doctor's certificate, or on attaining the age of 60, you could get the old age allowance," said the administrator. Suppressing a cry, Bondelika had told this painful episode. This is the kind of support and help extended by the administrator of the government aid programme.

Out of ten revenue villages of Shibpadar Panchayat, five have become history and lost their identity. The government and the administration do not try to recall that history. To prepare the census and voter list of these villages correctly, neither the government nor the administration of this independent country is truly desirous, though it is their duty. If this situation continues, then, like the vanished villages of Ankurbadi, Khambeshi, Uchakhamba, Haimandi, and Dohli, the remaining villages of Serkapadi, Batuli, Kesarpada, and Jharpa will also disappear in the next few years. The inhabitants of these villages will, in the near future, give up forever their right to live and lose the identity of their ancestral foundation.

For the benefit of giant corporate houses within a few days, the government and its administration so promptly establish police stations, construct roads, provide electricity, and unethically cut down thousands of acres of forest. In the process, hundreds of simple tribal people were displaced from their own land, and to keep control over poor villagers, the government and administration deploy hundreds of armed forces, ostensibly for their progress. The same government, even after 70 years, has not been able to provide a road to those villages and has not offered the villagers their basic right to livelihood. What can be more unfortunate than this? If in reality, the government had an iota of desire for the progress of the aboriginal tribes, then villages such as Ankurbadi and their inhabitants could have easily kept alive the legacy of their ancestors, and Jhita Kuturupa and Bondelika Dinju would not be struggling and awaiting death to relieve them.

Odisha: Disappearing villages and tribesmen of Niyamgiri Hills – Part I

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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