The political parties shower false assurances that the Paharias would be included in the ST category after the elections but all in vein.The forest dwellers have been crying hoarse since independence for their rightful place and pleading before not just the politicians but also before the State and Centre. A Paharia youth Sukara Sai Paharia rues the fact that politicians have failed them constantly.
Two Britishers, Richard Tample in 1863 and another V. Ball in 1867 had described that, "The Paharias sustain, their lives by hunting animals in the jungles and eating mainly forest products." The two authors wrote that the Paharias belonged to the wild race and lived in caves. In the 1901 and 1911 censuses, the Paharias were included in the ST category.
M.S. Sharing in 1867, and historians like RV Russel and RB Hiralal in 1916 described the Paharias as STs. Even the British rulers had accorded Protected Status to the Paharias. But the STs Status of the Paharias died an ignominious death in 1936 after Odisha was declared as a separate state and the erstwhile Khariar Zamindari merged with Orissa which was before that in the Central province.
The Paharias of Odisha have been sadly converted into a landless clan. Bamboo trees are the chief source of sustaining life for the Paharias. The government today has put several restrictions for bamboo cutting. The Paharias are today sandwiched in such a precarious condition. The demand for inclusion of the Paharias in the ST category was stalled in 1980, in the state assembly.
The Paharias have formed a forum called "Paharia Vikas Manch" in 2000 to champion their cause. The UNDP has published report on the Paharias ST status. In 2005, research scholar Dr. Phanindam Deo submitted a report on the Paharias to the government demanding inclusion of the Paharias in ST Category. A study was conducted by the Tribal and Harijan Research and Training Institute on the ethnic status of the Paharias.
The Naveen Patnaik Government on 27th July in 2005 sent a proposal to the Centre for the inclusion of the Paharias in the ST list. But after that the state government once in a bluemoon manner has racked up the issue with Centre more as a custom than anything else which lacks sincerity. The future of the Paharia since then has been jumping from one table to another like a ping pong ball. There is always a mad race among the politicians of all the parties to make false promises to the Paharias regarding their ST status once the election is at the doorstep. Once the elections are over, the Paharias as well as their hamlets are left high and dry like the Parajas.
The Paharias live in a pressure cooker like condition due to the labyrinthine rules and regulations and an apathetic bureaucracy. They are duped after every election. Having no way for sustaining a life, the Paharias fall prey to the broker to send them to different areas to work as migrant labourers. Three girls from village Kadanga who had gone to Andhra are still missing. Neither elected representatives nor the district administration pay any heed to their requests once the elections are past”, said Lachhaman Paharia.
Likewise echoes Ghaneshyam Paharia, "During the last assembly election the local BJD had assured us to fight for our ST status. But he forgot his promise after the election. We had met the Union Secretary for Tribal Affairs Dr. Hrushikesh Panda. We had hoped that our elected representative would raise the issue with him but unfortunately that was not to be. The representative was not simply seen. Dr. Panda on other hand informed us that the state government along with Paharias, had put in the bracket Kamar like 'Paharias (Kamar)' and hence there was a wrangle for inclusion of the Paharias in the ST list."
Once the leaders are elected, they start talking about rules and regulations and start the usual barbs between the State government and the Centre. And the innocent forest dwellers like the Parajas and the Paharias are left in the lurch remain to fend for themselves. The people of both the communities suffer from tremendous identity crises. The pride and self esteem of both the communities have been relegated or reduced to object poverty and sheer ignominy.
The landless Parajas and the Paharias are past losing their very identity in such unholy and unhealthy circumstances. They are losing their natural hearths. It appears very applying as if both the Parajas and the Paharias would soon be exiled to a land from which no one has ever returned due mainly to our democratic and political set up.