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Dongria Kondhs are happy the way they are

Santosh Patnaik
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Women have a dominant say in family management and the man has to pay ‘bride price’

Dongria Kondh women love to use colourful hairpins and nose rings in tune with their customs.
Dongria Kondh women love to use colourful hairpins and nose rings in tune with their customs.

Kutruka Arji, 35, of Tadijhola from this backward Kalahandi district, is happy with what he gets in the natural forest.

He is one among 8,000-odd Dongria Kondhs who live at a high altitude of Niyamgiri hills, banking on various forest produce. Like others belonging to the primitive tribal group (PTG), he is an expert farmer without using any chemical fertilizer.

“We are blessed with hundreds of perennial hill streams and rich vegetation. We get several herbs, which cure us of illnesses. We get fruits such as jackfruit, mango, orange, pine apple, banana, and papaya, and grow cabbage, cauliflower, lady finger, bitter gourd, ginger, turmeric, potato, millets, and oil palm. We are happy with what we are,” points out Shama Sikaka of Serkapadi in Rayagada district.

He does not want to go by the promise that his life will change dramatically if mining is allowed in the area. On a directive by the Supreme Court to verify whether bauxite mining in Niyagmgiri is an infringement on their religious and other rights, the Odisha government is holding palli (gram) sabhas in 12 villages under the supervision of judicial officials. In all the nine gram sabhas held so far, unanimous resolutions have been adopted opposing mining in the Niyamgiri hills. Three more gram sabhas will be held at Lakhpadar, Khambesi, and Jurpa between August 8 and 13.

Like Shama, all other Dongria Kondhs and other traditional forest dwellers say mining in the area will draw the wrath of the Almighty and it will thus lead to elimination of their entire community.

“We are ready to die and shed our blood like the Nagavali and Vamsadhara (which they say originate from the Niyamgiri hills), if mining is allowed,” said ward member Sriram Gardia. For all of them, Niyamraja, their ‘ista debta’ lives on the tip of Niyamigiri.

Though cut-off from the mainstream due to location of their habitations on difficult hilly terrains of Rayagada and Kalahandi district of Odisha, the indigenous tribes believed to be from Proto-Australoid ethnic group, bank on ‘gunias’ – local healers to get rid of their health problems.

Members of the community weave their own cloths and both men and women move to the jungles with sharp-blended axes and big sticks — for self-defence and hunting. Women carry two small knives and combs on their head and love to wear colourful hairpins, earrings, and nose rings.

Both men and women are fond of tattooing their bodies. Interestingly, men wear nose rings and comb like women.

Women have a dominant say in family management and the man, as part of tradition, has to pay bride price (dowry). Marriage by capture is common though it is being discouraged by NGOs and Dongria Development Agency, set up by the Odisha government to bring about change in their lifestyle. It has failed to reach the Dongria Kondhs due to inaccessible terrains and the reluctance of the PTG to join the mainstream.

Dongria Kondhs are on a warpath for nearly a decade against proposed mining by Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL), belonging to Vedanta Resources Plc, a London-listed mining and mineral giant.

VAL has made its one million tonne alumina refinery located at Lanjigarh, on the foothills of Niyamgiri, operational in 2007.

After a shutdown of the refinery for a long time, it was revived early this year with almost 40 per cut in production due to high cost in sourcing bauxite ore from other States.

VAL is keen to get bauxite ore from Niyamgiri as its Rs.40,000-crore investment plant in Odisha is at stake if mining is denied.

We are ready to die and shed our blood if bauxite mining is allowed

Sriram Gardia

Ward member

Women have a dominant say in family management and the man has to pay ‘bride price’

Members of the primitive tribal group live at a high altitude

of Niyamgiri hills

They bank on various forest produce and are blessed with many perennial hill streams

They bank on ‘gunias’ — local healers — to get rid of their health problems

Members of the community weave their own cloths

Both men and women are fond of tattooing their bodies

Interestingly, men wear nose rings and comb like women

Marriage by capture is common in the tribe

They believe that Niyamraja, their ‘ista debta’, lives on

the tip of Niyamigiri

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