BHAWANIPATNA: Deprived of livelihood and basic amenities, the Paharia community of Kalahandi continues to suffer under abject poverty even after seven decades of Independence. Paharias are present in Bijapada and Rajnapada villages under Sikuan gram panchayat of Bhawanipatna block. While there are 25 Paharia households in Bijapada, Rajnapada has 16.
Although the community members have been demanding Scheduled Tribe (ST) status like their counterparts in neighbouring Chhattisgarh, they have not been included. Paharias were recognised as ST during the British rule but lost the status after formation of the State in 1936. They were then officially categorised as Other Backward Class (OBC), excluding them from the benefits of various Government schemes meant for development of STs.
The Paharias are also known as Kamaras (blacksmiths) in the Western Odisha region as they share a high degree of commonality with Kamaras of Chhattisgarh but they are not in the vocation here. They eke out living by making bamboo products, working as labourers and selling forest produce unlike their counterparts in the neighbouring State.
Development is a misnomer for the community in both the villages. None of the Paharia children in the two villagers go to school. Sixteen-year-old Parbati of Bijapada is the only child in the village who studied up to Class VIII but dropped out to add to her family income by working as a labourer.
Only five families in Bijapada could avail Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) benefit and latrines were constructed for 14 households under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan but these are not put to use. In the absence of employment opportunities and work under MGNREGS, Paharias of both the villages have started migrating to Andhra Pradesh in search of work.
Rashika Paharia is one of the five families to get housing aid under IAY. “Work on the house is underway and once it is complete, I and my wife will migrate to Hyderabad to work as daily labourers”, she said. The couple had already taken Rs 30,000 as advance from a labour sardar.
Although all the elderly and widows of the village get pension under Madhu Babu Pension Yojana, the amount of Rs 300 and Rs 500 does not suffice. The only silver lining is that they get subsidised rice and other commodities under Public Distribution System.
As they do not have ST status, they are also deprived of forest rights. "Last year, we held a rally demanding forest rights. We have been writing to the tehsildar to grant us record or rights for Government and forest land that we have developed. But no one is interested in listening to us," said Satia Paharia, a villager of Rajnapada.
Those who do not migrate, weave bamboo baskets which are sold in weekly haat but even that is not sufficient in making both ends meet.Health wise, people of the villagers are often affected by water and vector borne disease besides, chicken pox. Health officials and workers rarely visit the villages and ailing villagers mostly depend on traditional healers and quacks.Collector Harshad Parag Gavali said steps will be taken for improving living condition of Paharias.
Away from development
- None of the Paharia children in the two villagers go to school
- IAY assistance has been provided to just five families
- Many villagers are migrating to AP to work as labourers
- Doctors, health workers never visit the Paharia villages