August 9 is celebrated as International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples to raise awareness and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population.
Gone are the days when Dongria Kondh, the indigenous inhabitants of Niyamgiri hills and forest, were known as vulnerable tribal groups who used to depend on minor forest produce for their livelihood.
Today they have become independent. Women of Niyamgiri Hills have become self reliant. Apart from depending on forest produce, they eke out their living by making eco-friendly disposal plates made of sal leaves. Besides, they grow turmeric and sell its powder in the market.
The shifting cultivation used to be a sustainable approach towards the livelihood system of these indigenous populations. Now they are into many activities sponsored by the state government to become economically viable.
According to sources, as many as 10,300 Kondh tribal people reside in 30 villages under Kalyansinghpur, Bisam Cuttack and Muniguda block in Kalahandi district.
Earlier, education was not their priority. In recent years, they have shifted their focus from shifting cultivation and growing forest crops to education because all they want to join the mainstream of the society.
It may be noted that the region has witnessed a history of struggle by Dongria communities to protect Niyamgiri from Vedanta Resources, a London-based company. That movement against Vedanta Resources is believed to have brought new hopes for them.
Rayagada District Collector Swadha Dev Singh said, “Kondhs are now into different kinds of livelihood activities because we all want them to become part of the society. No doubt, their lifestyle has changed remarkably.”
Dongria youth Kusha Wadka said, “It’s true that our lifestyle has changed. Though we eat mandia and jau, but our approach towards life has changed. Both men and women from our communities have become educated. We are leading a better lifestyle.”
A woman resident Wadke Sindhe said, “We have become self reliant. Now I started making sal leaf plates and sell them in the market.”