Foreign tourists flock to weekly shandy, where Bonda tribals congregate

Foreign tourists continue to flock to a weekly shandy here in Koraput district, about 100 km from the Araku Valley, at least some of them eager to gaze at semi-clad Bonda tribals. A `human safari' controversy over semi-nude dances by members of one of the most primitive tribal groups in Odisha's Malkangiri district had recently led to an undeclared ban being imposed on the entry of outsiders into the tribal hamlets.

The Odisha government had acted after advertisements on the Internet by certain travel operators offering to display Bonda tribal people had come to the attention of the authorities. The offer involved entertainment for the tourists provided by tribals, scantily-clad and sporting heavily beaded and thick silver necklace bands.

Following a local media furore in December 2011, Additional Secretary, Panchayati Raj, Usha Padhee, IAS, had been asked by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to conduct an enquiry. Her report is believed to have recommended steps to protect the dignity and self-respect of the Bonda tribes; it has not been made public. Highly placed officials, however, told The Hindu that there were instructions from the Chief Minister's office not to allow tourist groups into tribal villages.

It was only recently that a public outcry was caused by video footage on a nude dance by Jarawa tribes in the Andamans archipelago.

Scores of tourists on conducted tour arrangements, many of them in buses, continue to arrive at the shandy, which is held on Thursdays. Many of them are from the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

Not all of them seem to relish what they see. “They are all beautiful people, very innocent and always smiling. They are far off from modern civilisation. They should be protected and I have come here just to see them,” Jean Delmas, a retired engineer from Paris, said on Thursday.

Tribals visit the weekly shandy to buy provisions and vegetables, trekking long distances. They have now come to seek money in return for being photographed by the tourists.

Tourist importance

Travel operators based at Bhubaneswar, Puri, Koraput and other places have been trying to lure foreign tourists by promising them to show primitive tribes in Malkangiri, Kondhomal and Rayagada, along with places of tourist importance like Konark.

“I am a freelance travel operator. I advertise on the Internet and organise tours to the tribal areas in small groups,” Niranjan, a tourist guide-cum-operator based at Koraput said.

Before the ban was put in place, travel operators used to arrange make-shift accommodation for foreigners at Mudilipada and Khoiruput, the gateway to upper Bonda villages, and later take them on a trip to Bonda habitations.

“I was very disturbed at the sight of the primitive tribespeople being made into beggars. This is not a good trend,” said Dr. Susan Horsewood. She said she was shocked at the news of alleged human safari of Bondas.

Malkangiri Collector Balwant Singh said the administration had taken several initiatives to protect the culture of Bondas and bring about improvement in their socio-economic conditions. Most of them live in sub-human conditions on hilltops.

According to Census 2011, the Bonda tribe has a population of less than 12,000, and they are not a dwindling tribe.