The tribe that disappeared

For over five decades, the Durua tribe in Orissa was not recognised because of a mistake in the Centre's list of scheduled tribes made in 1951...

Published: Sunday 15 February 2004

The tribe that disappeared

-- (Credit: Photographs: Paresh Rath)For over five decades, a tribe in Orissa was not recognised because of a mistake in the Centre's list of scheduled tribes made in 1951. "The list mentioned Dharua tribe as existing in Koraput and Mayurbhanj district of Orissa. But in reality, Dharua exists only in Mayurbhanj, while the tribe living in Koraput is Durua," explains Paresh Rath, who has worked extensively on Duruas in the state. As a result, Duruas were never given tribal status till late 2003, when the mistake was corrected. An exhibition titled 'The Deprived Tribe' at the World Social Forum, Mumbai, tells their absorbing tale. One of the 62 tribes in the state, Duruas also live in the neighbouring state of Chattisgarh where they have been recognised. Therefore, a girl from a Durua family in Chattisgarh was generally not married to a Durua boy from Orissa. If she did, she lost her tribal status!

The life and culture of the two tribes that were confused with each other are quite different. For instance, while Duruas bury their dead, Dharuas burn them. They speak completely different languages. According to Rath, anthropological surveys verify that these are two different tribes. Durua women collect forest products for self-consumption or sale, and men are mainly engaged in weaving bamboo baskets. The entire population of the Durua tribe, about 3000, is mainly concentrated in the dense hilly tracts of the Ramgiri forest range.

"Non-recognition as a tribe has prevented Duruas from availing any tribal welfare scheme. They have also lost a large part of their land to non-tribals. Though transfer of tribal land to non-tribals is not permitted, Duruas' land was not protected since they were not recognised as tribals," tells Rath, who organised the exhibition of photographs on the Durua tribe. In 2002, the Koraput district magistrate directed that Duruas be issued tribe certificates, and revenue records at the district administration level be corrected to classify their land as tribal land. Following this, the Centre also included Duruas as a separate tribe in late 2003.

As compensation for 50 years of deprivation, Duruas are demanding 'primitive tribal group' status for their tribe, since special agencies implement specific plans towards promotiing the welfare of such groups.

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