AMLAPALI (NUAPADA) : Jagabandhu had to drop out of school after Class V as hopes of Government support faded. The Punji family became overnight poverty celebs but things only got worse. Joining the conversation sullenly, Phanas pours out her bile. “People got jealous of us and we were virtually cast out of the neighbourhood in Amlapali,” she says. Her husband had never been around, and after the poverty tourists went home, she became the sole bread-earner of the family. the nation’s pity and the neighbours’ envy made things worse. A tubewell was promised and she applied for it. The papers were issued but someone cleverly hijacked it. “I asked and the authorities said the borewell was for me but I never got it. I still don’t have one,” she says. Jagabandhu and his wife Chanchala are working towards getting a motor pump. If they raise `30,000, the Government will give a likely subsidy and the pump is theirs. The wife and he decided to save their NREGS wages and they’ve raked together `4000 so far. “I don’t think we can ever manage `30,000,” says Jagabandhu with a wry smile.
Nuapada is one of the poorest districts in Odisha. At least 83 per cent of the families here live below the poverty line. Of them, over 50 per cent are tagged “very poor”, earning barely `6,000 a year. Perennially drought-hit, Nuapada, Kalahandi and Balangir are witness to migration by the thousands every year. Phanas and her son have been spared that fate till now. The latest district gazetteer calculates that one year of drought pushes the poor of Nuapada into 10 years of indebtedness. Even in a good year, a social function could deplete all of a family’s reserves and leave it in a food deficit.
The annual festivals are always a worry. Nuakhai, the biggest festival of western Odisha, is now here. It has to be celebrated with good food and new clothes to welcome the new rice of the season but for Phanas and Jagabandhu, it will be a just another day of struggle. From mother to son, a generation has passed and the faces have changed on the posters. From Phanas Punji to Dana Majhi, this is Kalahandi reinventing itself, trying to make itself interesting to a nation that sends 65 satellites into space all at once.