Thejeswar’s roar was the call of an oppressed community to break free of the shackles. His shining eyes and graceful movements even as the soulful, but, wild beats in the background hit a crescendo conveyed nothing less than the pride and liberation of being let to be himself.

Thejeswar was at the centre of a dance performed by tribal youth from Koraput district in Orissa here on Wednesday. It was among the many performances staged in connection with the 3rd Tribal Youth Cultural Exchange Programme organised jointly by the Kerala zone of the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS) of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

“The dance is part of our tribal festival held in March. We go hunting in group to jungle and return to our hamlet with the hunted animal. Then we sit around the fire and eat and drink and dance together in circle,” Thejeswar later explained the performance.

The extent of education was what struck him about people here. He was candid in admitting that he felt ashamed on hearing even ordinary people talk English.

Amit Kumar Majhi, a young tribal ITI trainer from Orissa, was also convinced that what he heard about the high literacy of the State was not exaggerated. For a person saddened by the scourge of smoking among his community, he was surprised to notice that not a single cigarette butt or pan stain could be seen anywhere.

Majhi was aware that his State was infamous for Naxal influence especially in the tribal belt. “When the politicians make hollow promises and seek bribe to meet our simplest of needs, when we are underpaid simply because of being Adivasis, why won’t we turn to the Naxals who actually help us on the ground,” he asked. He, however, admitted that the violence by Naxals was also a reality.

Benjamin Victor, the team leader from Warangal, had to say how the Naxal influence had waned in his region with the State government initiative. He said that the schemes like the food-for-work programme, distribution of rice at Rs. 2 per kilogram and the various women empowerment programmes have really made a difference, he said. “In fact, many Naxal activists have been absorbed into the main stream. For instance, one of our MLAs in the region and zilla parishad chairman are former Naxals,” he said

Meena, the secretary of the Attapady Ooru Vikasana Samithy, felt the situation of tribal in the State was much better compared to their counterparts from other States. She, however, was sad that language proved a barrier in having a close interaction with the participants.

Earlier, District Collector M. Beena inaugurated the programme. S. Satheese, zonal director, NYKS, presided. The week-long programme has 250 tribal youth from ten districts spread over the districts of Jharkand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, and Bihar.

Mr. Satheese said that the participants will be taken to visit primary health centres, anganwadis, self-help groups, Kudumbasree units to help the participants see for themselves how development initiatives of the government reached the needy. The programme will end on October 11.