The Bondas, one of India's most primitive tribes living in the remote hills of Odisha's Malkangiri district, turned a new leaf on Friday.
Dambaru Sisha, 34, took the oath of office as the first MLA from the reclusive tribes that remained untouched by civilization for centuries.
Sisa, who won from Chitrakonda assembly constituency of the district as Biju Janata Dal candidate, said, "The government has initiated several development work for the Bondas, but much more needs to be done. As a priority, I want to focus on their education, health and communication."
The first post-graduate Bonda with masters in mathematics and law, Sisa had unsuccessfully contested for Chitrakonda for the first time in 2009 elections as a BJD candidate. His decision to join politics had come amid a festering debate between those who romanticise the Bonda tribe's isolation and others who have been pushing for their integration with the mainstream.
Sisa clearly sides with the latter and argues that it is possible to protect the unique culture and tradition of the tribe while giving them access to education and everything that goes with modern civilization.
"I do not want framed photographs of my people decorating drawing rooms of the rich. At the same time, I also do not want influential people making money from government programmes meant to usher in development for Bondas," Sisa said.
Despite several development programmes, only 6% Bondas are literates and life expentancy is so low that it is threatening to make the tribe extinct.
Over time, the Bondas have come to be classified in two groups--- Upper Bondas living in the inaccessible forests and Lower Bondas who have been interacting with people in the plains after shifting down the hills in the recent past.
The Upper Bondas have a population of 6,700 while Lower Bondas 17,000. The numbers have remained constant for about past thirty decades. The Upper Bondas do not wear any clothes and have virtually no connection with outside world.
Sisa's mother was an Upper Bonda before she married a Lower Bonda, who paid a bride price --- a custom for the tribe whose women marry younger men.
The MLA is a beneficiary of a 1977 government programme designed to end the isolation of the Bondas. After completing education, he served the CRPF for five years and a cooperative bank for a year. In 2008, he joined an NGO to do social work in his area.
BJD had roped him in because of his popularity among his tribesmen.