COVID-19 among Dongriya Kondhs: 4 test positive

Their economy hit; several unable to go out to sell crops and other produce due to COVID-19 fear

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Monday 17 May 2021
Three bonda tribals tested positive for COVID-19 in Malkangiri district of Odisha on May 4. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The novel coronavirus disease has reached the Niyamgiri hills of Odisha’s Rayagada district — home to Dongria Kondhs, a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG).   

At least four persons from the tribe tested positive for the novel coronavirus May 13, 2021, following which they were isolated, said Saroj Kumar Mishra, collector of Rayagada.

“We are taking all steps to check the spread of COVID-19 in the area,” added Mishra.

Niyamgiri comprises densely forested hills, deep gorges and cascading streams.

As many as 9,597 Dongria Kondh tribals live in 102 villages in the hills, according to Sudarshan Padhi, project manager, Dongria Kondh Development Agency. 

“Some Dongaria Kondh come down from the hills to sell bananas, sweet potatoes, brooms, etc. We have been teaching them about social distancing norms and importance of wearing masks,” added Padhi.

On May 4, three bonda tribals had tested positive for the virus in Malkangiri district, and have been admitted in COVID-19 hospitals.  

Other Bondas have remained unaffected for they live in hillocks far away from other community members. Movements to Bonda hamlets have been restricted, said Debabrata Barik, medical officer, community health centre at Khairput.

“Our ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) and Anganwadi workers have been playing a pivotal role by convincing Bonda people to take vaccines. We have been organising health camps in the Bonda hills,” said Barik.

The Bonda tribe is one of the oldest and most primitive tribes in mainland India. Their culture has changed little for more than a thousand years. They are one of the 75 primitive tribal groups identified by the Government of India.

The Odisha government completely sealed Malkangiri and Rayagada district borders with Andhra Pradesh May 5 onwards.

“A large number of Bonda farmers are unable to venture out to sell crops.  It’s the time of the season when they harvest and sell banana and other vegetable crops. They are also unable to sell brooms due to the shut down,” said Raju Muduli, a Bonda tribe of village Mudulipada.

“Earlier we used to go to the nearby haat (local mart) and sell our produce one a week. But now, since the village haat has been shut, we do not know where to sell our produce. Bananas, sweet potatoes, mangoes and other products are perishable, so we cannot keep them for long, said a Bonda farmer Bhiku Kirsani of Padeiguda village on Bonda hill.

“We have lived in the hillocks for hundreds of years. We can’t survive anywhere else. COVID-19 epidemic mostly impacted the transporting of agricultural goods to consumption areas, as a result of which we are suffering huge losses,” said Minu Sisa, a Bonda farmer from Mudulipada village.

As many as 7,098 Bonda people now live across 32 villages under Mudulipada and Andrahal Gram Panchayat covering 130 square kilometers on the hillocks. They are some of the poorest tribes, said Debendra Chandra Mahari, project leader, Bonda Development Agency. 

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