Covid-19 takes Odisha’s primitive tribal groups into its tentacles
After remaining untouched for long, primitive tribal groups of Odisha in remote habitations have reported half a dozen Covid-19 cases recently, triggering concerns over the infection spreading to other such tribals in the state.
Five Didayi tribals in Oringi and Muduliguda villages have tested positive for the virus over the last couple of days, officials said.
Didayi is a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG).
The first case of infection among tribals was reported recently from Khairput block of Malkangiri district, where over 12,000 Bonda tribals, one of the 13 PVTG of Odisha, stay in hilltop villages.
“The infection was reported a few days back and the infected person is doing well. His conditions are stable. We have taken all precautionary measures,” said Malkangiri district collector Manish Agarwal
He also said that movements to Bonda hamlets have been restricted.
Other officials in the district said considering the isolated way of life of Bondas, it is difficult to find out how the Bonda tribal got infected. “Some of the Bondas do go to the nearby haats (community marketplace) and may have caught the infection,” said an official. In Khairput block, so far 41 people have tested positive.
The Bondas scattered across 32 remote hilltop villages on in the Eastern Ghats of Malkangiri district are believed to have come to India as part of the first wave of migration out of Africa about 60,000 years ago. They were the first forest settlers in India. Though the state government set up the Bonda Development Agency in 1977, there has not been much progress in the community with malnutrition still rampant among the children.
Y Giri Rao, who works with the tribal communities in Odisha, said Covid reaching the PVTG groups like Bondas was not a good sign considering the poor level of immunity of these tribals due to malnutrition. “The PVTG are our heritage. There is still no clear data whether the pandemic has affected other groups like Lanjia Saura, Dongaria Kondh, Juangs and Lodhas. Their numbers have remained stagnant and if they are not saved from pandemic they may be wiped out,” said Rao, adding that if infection spreads among Bondas, it may be difficult to isolate them considering the way they live.
Officials working with the PVTG asserted that infection is yet to spread among these tribals living in the remote pockets of the state.
Project director of Odisha PVTG Empowerment and Livelihood Improvement Programme, P Arthanari
said none of the officials have reported cases of Covid infection among the tribals on the ground even though cases have been reported from areas where these tribals live.
“I have sought information from my staff about the possible Covid cases among PVTG tribals,” Arthanari said.
In Bissamcuttack and Kalyansinghpur blocks of the Rayagada district, where the Dongria Kandhs tribe lives, there have been 106 and 40 positive cases respectively.
Similarly, 189 Covid-19 cases have been found in Lanjigarh block of Kalahandi district, where the Dongrias live.
In Gajapati’s Guma block, home to the Lanjiasaura tribals, 313 people have been infected by the Covid-19.
Director of Public Health, Ajit Mohanty said the state government has not done classification of the cases on the basis of tribals and non-tribals so far even though tribals constitute 23 per cent of the total population of the state.
“The number of cases is too large for our staff to do any classification. We are mostly doing classification on gender and age basis. However, the prevalence among PVTG tribals, if any, would be low as they don’t travel outside for work. Most of the tribals who were infected were migrant workers,” said Mohanty.