Sambari Krishani of Mudulipada has to walk two hours daily to fetch drinking water.Sambari Krishani of Mudulipada has to walk two hours daily to fetch drinking water. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.

According to a local person at Mudulipada, who wished to remain anonymous, among the 30 tube wells dug by the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (RWSS) department and two piped water projects undertaken by the Odisha Tribal Empowerment and Livelihood Project in the Bonda hills, most are lying defunct due to non-maintenance and few have been left incomplete.

Additionally, an open well, fitted with a pump, in Mudulipada has been destroyed in an attack by the Naxal radical group, three years ago. The region, located on the tri-junction of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh states, has always been vulnerable to Naxal insurgency.

A defunct water tank at Mudulipada which was attacked by Naxals in 2016.
A defunct water tank at Mudulipada which was attacked by Naxals in 2016. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.

Changing forest cover impacts the Bonda’s access to resources

Depleting forest cover has affected the self-sufficient life in the Bonda hills. The community’s dependence on the land has become negligible. Bondas now practice Dongar Chas (shifting cultivation) in the hills but due to acute water shortage, they cannot produce much of the agricultural products. “As productivity is very less we have to buy vegetables, cereals, rice and millets from the nearest market which is about 27 km from here,” said Buda Dara Majhi, a villager of Dantipada. The locals also have cover a longer distance than earlier, when the dense forest was near their village, to collect firewood and graze cattle.

Salap and Mahua trees have importance in the Bonda culture as traditional wine is made from the flowers of these trees. With high temperatures in the summers, the Salap tree now dries up and Mahua becomes scarce and the Bondas have turned to make liquor from millets.

A Bonda woman preparing liquor from millets at Bonda hill.
A Bonda woman preparing liquor from millets at Bonda hill. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.

Over the last decades, few Bonda men migrated to nearby towns to earn a livelihood, but now women too have started abandoning their ancestral villages as well. “Our daughters have gone to Andhra Pradesh and nearby towns like Jeypore, Koraput to work in hotels,” Jashna Rani Majhi, head of the panchayat of Mudulipada, told Mongabay-India. Youth are migrating for work as the community is no longer able to meet its needs from the forest, she added.

A bonda woman on her way to sell handmade baskets in a local market at Khairput.
A Bonda woman on her way to sell handmade baskets in a local market at Khairput. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.

The Bonda Development Agency (BDA) was set up in 1977 by the Odisha government for the development of the community. However, development activities are still to see progress in the region. There is only one Primary Health Centre (PHC) in the upper hills at Mudulipada, which is run by an NGO headed by a doctor from the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), Parfulla Kumar Parida. He said that Bondas are mostly suffering from diarrhoea, malaria and tuberculosis and diarrhoea cases are common because the drinking water from Chuyanh is often contaminated with bacteria and heavy metals.

As water bodies dry up during summers, Bonda women participate in community fishing.
As water bodies dry up during summers, Bonda women participate in community fishing. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.

However, a BDA official Dipak Maharam claimed, “We have improved the drinking water management at Bonda hills but the drinking water crisis has been the worst in summer. We have already started restoring tribal traditions like kitchen gardens managed by Bonda women at each household to supplement their daily needs and livelihood development training for youth.”

Children collect drinking water from a Chuyanh (small stream) at Bonda hill.Children collect drinking water from a Chuyanh (small stream) at Bonda hill. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.

 

Banner image: The Bonda tribe is one of the 13 particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTG) in Odisha. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.

Article published by Aditi
, , , , ,