In my journey to tribal pockets of Odisha, 13 districts namely Koraput, Balangir, Kalahandi, Nawarangpur, Gunjam, Rayagada, Mayurbhanj, Kendujhar, Sambalpur, Sundargarh, Malkangiri, Kandhamal, Phullbani, I covered, the undivided Koraput (now divided into 4 districts Koraput, Rayagada, Nawarangpur and Malkangiri) that consists of more than 50% of tribal population.
According to 2011 census the tribal population in Odisha is 8,145,081, which is 22.1 percent of the total population of the state and 9.7 percent of the total tribal population of the country. Malkangiri district has the highest proportion of STs (57.4 per cent) followed by Mayurbhanj (56.6 per cent), Rayagada (55.8 per cent) and Nabarangapur (55 per cent).
The anthropologist study accounts 62 types of tribes in Odisha. They are catered in the above districts although their number is so small. When it's concerned about the population of a tribe, the Bhumia, Bhatra, Gond, Koya, Paraja, Kondh constitute above one lakh each, while other 26 tribes population is around 1000.
Out of sixty two (62) STs, living in Odisha Khond is the most populous tribe followed by Gond. The other major tribals living in Odisha are Santal, Kolha, Munda, Saora, Shabar and Bhottada,Bhumij, Bhuiya, Oraon, Paroja and Kisan. Languages spoken by them are different from Odia though many of the tribals now understand Odia.
There are so many tribal pockets in Koraput, Malkangiri, Mayurbhanj, kalahandi, Rayaghada which are a far away from the 21st century. 2011 census neither has counted nor reached at them, only few NGOs and overseas social workers have touched them. Where in 2014 electricity is a dream – what about medical facility – traditional priests, Guni- Garedi (worshiping and superstition) do the job of a physician. Communication is the toe path through the deep forest and there are so many tribal parts, which account a huge amount in government's tribal expenditure, are out of PMGSY, they are carried out by Bahungi Bhara - a traditional carriage made out of bamboo and rope in India used to carry goods on shoulders.
Balipratha (superstition of sacrificing birds, animals, some times child before God) is still practiced during contagious diseases like Diarrhea.
The main problem of tribes is lack of drinking water. They entirely depend on natural resources like pool, and fountain. Every year in summer they struggle for one drop of drinking water and then ends up in drinking polluted water and during the rains they consume flood water. As most of tribal areas are hill covered, the rain water flows away and they face the scarcity of drinking water every year. Although the government has arranged tube wells and wells in many areas, but most of them are out of order.
If we keep eye on their socio-economic condition, they are no way out of exploitation, after 67 years of independence they are not out of land lords and Mahajani Pratha (local money lenders). The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme values zero for these Adivasis. Local political touts take its advantages.
Naxalism is the biggest problem in these districts. In the name of land revolution they are inspired and commanded to fight against the system. They are illiterate but hard working and obedient. The Naxal leaders take advantage of this, train them as soldiers and imprint an idea in their minds that the system is against them, they have to fight to save their nature, their foster mother 'the green jungle'.
Naxal leaders do the brain wash of tribals in the name of human rights and they are highly provocated that they are fighting for a noble deed, for the sake of poor and tribes, they should destroy the system on gun point. These innocent tribes also think that Naxal leaders are their well wishers and protectors.
The influence of Naxalism is so high that even children above 8 years consider them as their idols and start working as informers for the naxals. These school going children who are out of doubt of Police and BSF inform them about police patrolling and BSF march. There is also a reason behind it, naxals feed their family.
Why they see police as their enemy? There is a long history on police's brutality against these jungle people. Though the police is trying its best to establish a friendly relationship but the past experiences are creating hurdles.
Marijuana farming is the money bank of naxalites. Although it's illegal, tribals farm Marijuana in deep forest. There are acres and acres of Marijuana farm. These tribes farm and protect the farming and get some money in return, but the lion's share goes in to the coffer of naxals.
In some cases they blend the traditional alcoholic drink called 'Handia', made out of rice and 'Mahuli' made out of Mahua flower and sell them in the weekly markets.