What is COVID? ask Bonda tribals of Malkangiri

Far from the madding crowd, they live on the top of Bonda hills under Khairiput block of Odisha’s Malkangiri district. Little do they know that the world has plunged to a major health crisis called Covid-19 pandemic. The Bondas, one of the primitive tribal groups, are still unaware of the catastrophic Covid-19 and continue to live their life like any other normal period. Neither are they using masks nor sanitisers to ward off Covid infections, much because of the fact that they have not yet been apprised about the disease and its damaging impacts.

“No one has come here so far to make the people aware about the disease. These people who are living on hilltops rarely visit local markets and hence have little chance of getting infected. However, if any of them get infected by any means, the situation will be beyond control as our people do not have much knowledge of modern healthcare and hygiene,” Dambaburu Sisa, a Bonda tribal and former Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), said.

Mr Sisa said there was an urgent need on the part of the state government to depute special officers to Bonda hills and ensure good hygiene,” said Bonda leader and former MLA Dambaru Sisa.

Bigna Kirsani, a Bonda youth who was previously chairperson of Khairput block, said the local residents do not have access to information.

“Since most of the villages under Mudulipada and Andrahal gram panchayats don’t have power supply, they can’t watch television. Other means of communication like telephone and radio still remain a distant dream for them. The only medium of reaching to them is engagement of volunteers and social workers. Some of us who have got a little bit of education are giving our best efforts to make them aware about the threats posed by Covid-19,” said Kirsani.

Sharing an interesting experience while distributing masks and sanitisers, Kirsani said when they entered different hamlets and villages, the people asked them, “What is Covid?”

He informed that some social workers had mobilised some masks and santisers from non-governmental organizations and distributed them among the tribals.

The district Project Director of Malkangiri B M Bhuyan and, who in fact monitors Bonda development, could not be reached for his comments. A call to his mobile phone went unanswered. Bonda Development Agency chief K T Behera also remained incommunicado.

Categorised as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), the Bondas are an endangered tribal community.

Also known as the Bondo, Bondo Poraja, Bhonda, or Remo, the Bondas are a Munda ethnic group with an approximate population of 12,000 (2011 census). They live in the isolated hill regions of the Malkangiri district.

There are two different Bonda tribes – the Upper Bondas with a population of 6,700 who are the most isolated from mainstream Indian society, and the Lower Bonda with a population of 17,000. Upper Bondas living on hilltops have almost no connection to the outside world.


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