MALKANGIRI: A Top the Bonda Hill, around 85 km from the district headquarter town of Malkangiri, the remote Padeiguda village is celebrating a 19-year-old girl. Karma Muduli has become the first from the PVTG community to top an examination in the district. It’s a rare distinction for a tribe which lives away from the prying eyes of the urban world, reluctant to be exposed to the so-called civilized society.
The literacy rate among the Bondas is a measly six per cent, as per the 2011 Census. Among women, it is even lower. That’s all the more reason to cheer for Karma who went on to be the top scorer in Plus Two Commerce in all of Malkangiri district.
A student of Scheduled Tribe & Scheduled Caste Development (SSD) department-run Higher Secondary School at Govindpalli, Karma scored 82.66 per cent in the annual examination conducted by the Council of Higher Secondary Education this year. Put in plain words, her achievement was unprecedented of sorts.
Her father Buda Muduli is a small farmer and her 57-year-old mother Sukri lends a helping hand. Karma’s elder brother Bina studied up to Class 8 before dropping out. He works as a mason in Andhra Pradesh.
Of the two younger sisters, Manguli, 17, had to discontinue her academic pursuits due to poor financial conditions while 12-year-old Sima is a Class 7 student of Kadamguda Ashram School. It is the residential schools run by the Scheduled Tribe & Scheduled Caste department of the Odisha government which are the only hope for youngsters aspiring for education in a secluded hilly region where basic amenities sometimes remain a far cry. Literally.
Karma though was not one to be deterred by the barriers of economics and geography. “We do not have cultivable land but my father tills others’ farms to earn and continuously supported our education,” she says. Benefits from the social welfare schemes do help but never were enough for the family though district administration claims Buda has some forest land where he grew only paddy and niger but under Odisha PVTG Empowerment and Livelihood Improvement Programme (OPELIP) and Bonda Development Agency (BDA), he got support for raising poultry and growing banana, turmeric, ginger and other livelihood activities.
For Karma, it was always about education. She completed primary and secondary education from Badbel High school at Khairput and stood second in the district in High School Certificate Examination in 2020 while securing 57 per cent marks.“Since the family finances were not good, I was initially reluctant to pursue higher studies but decided to press on for the sake of my parents and the community,” she said.
During her Plus Two days, she was used to following a rigorous regime. Karma would wake up at 3.30 am to study and finish the tasks given by teachers. She devoted at least 6-7 hours every day during her two years' stay in the hostel while support from teachers like Subhashree Panigrahi and Satis Ranjan Sahu prepared her.
Now the 19-year-old wants to pursue Plus Three in Commerce in one of the top institutions like BJB College or Ravenshaw College, or even KISS. “I want to be a lecturer so that I can help guide youngsters of my region to educate themselves. I want to appear for the civil services examination too,” said the district topper who was felicitated by Malkangiri Collector Vishal Singh.“Karma is a role model, a symbol of possibility, hope and transformation for her community,” Collector Singh said.