Column: Of Business and Culture

By Ashutosh Mishra

London: Tribal Odisha continues to fascinate foreigners. Browsing through the newspapers here I came across a promotional travel write-up on India with a nice photograph of the Konark sun temple at the top. The piece titled “ Another India” sought to highlight the “ little-visited eastern tribal state of Odisha ( formerly Orissa)” as a tourist destination.

It made a particular mention of the opportunity the tourists would get of meeting the members of Bonda, Gadaba, Desia Kondh and Paroja tribes in villages, often on the market day. What struck me about the write up that was accompanied by a photograph of tribal women selling local brew at one of the local markets was the attempt to attract potential tourists to Odisha from countries like England by creating myths that might make the tribal lifestyle in the state more appealing to foreigners.

“Village boundaries are protected by magic and they also have ‘totemic’ spiritual beliefs where each family or tribe trace their heritage back to a respected animal ancestor,” wrote the author, obviously trying to raise the curiosity of the potential customers that the travel company he was seeking to promote might draw.

I wonder if the bit about magic protecting village boundaries is true. Even the Bondas, supposed to be among the most ancient tribes of Odisha, have come a long way from the days when they used to live naked on hill tops. They are now frequently seen in the plains selling their wares in the weekly markets, interacting happily with others. Their children now attend schools and they are beginning to understand the value of modern medicine.

Hence tribes like Bondas should not be peddled as curiosities by tour organizers and travel companies to attract customers. It is like a cheap business tactic that compromises on truth for the sake of money. Such an approach can also trigger resentment among the people of the area being visited by the tourists with chances of trouble not ruled out.

The kidnapping of two Italian tourists visiting the interior areas of tribal-dominated Kandhamal district by Maoist leader, Sabyasachi Panda in 2012 is still fresh in the minds of people. Panda, who had warned foreigners against attempts to portray the tribals of the state in a negative light, released his hostages after spending several days in captivity.

Odisha government, too, has, from time to time, sought to impose restrictions on the travel of foreigners to the state’s tribal belt, especially the areas inhabited by particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTG) like Bondas and Dongoria Kandhas. In 2012 it had banned photography and videography of members of such tribal groups. Apart from Bondas and Kandhas vulnerable tribals groups like Didayi, Lanjia Saura, Juang, Chuktia Bhunjia, Saura, Paudi Bhuyan, Lodha, Mankirdia and Bihor hold special attraction for foreigners because of their quaint customs and exotic rituals.

But profit-seeking tour operators should refrain from taking things too far as this might offend the sensibilities of people who take pride in the rich tribal culture of their areas.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)