As the COVID-19 cases in Odisha climb, and while the entire nation is fighting against the disease, the rural population is worried for work and food to survive.
Imposing lockdown and the restrictions in movement has been a challenge for the poor whose livelihood has been shattered, which may prove economically devastating in coming days, if Government will not take proper steps.
This story captures the voices from the Paharia communities of the Nuapada district, Odisha, who have been adversely affected due to the nation-wide lockdown pertaining to COVID-19.
The main occupation of the Paharia community is bamboo basket weaving.
They believe that they were formerly called Paharias, as they lived in the hills, but that ever since they took up bamboo work, they have been called Kamars.
As per the official records, Paharias are recorded as Kamars who are considered as Other Backward Caste (OBC) in Odisha.
However, in the neighboring state of Chhattisgarh, they are recognized as Scheduled Tribes and further they are included under the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG).
The Paharia people of Odisha are struggling to get the status of Scheduled Tribe in the state.
Buddhuram Paharia, a 68-year-male resident of Bhainsadani village of Boden block in Nuapada district, lives with his family of eight and says “We have been rendered helpless in the current lockdown situation as we cannot sell our bamboo baskets.
The baskets are priced between Rs. 50 to Rs. 150 based on the size.
I enjoy my work with my family members since this is my traditional livelihood. We used to sell our products in the weekly market. Now, how will I be able to feed my family?”
Like him, there are 35 other Paharia families residing in the village. Most of them are landless and possess no agricultural land.
Sometimes they work as daily wage labourers or agricultural laborers while some of them sell forest produce.
Basket weaving is their main occupation.
Maraguda village comes under Boden block of Nuapada district where around 12 Paharia families are living.
Dhabai Paharia, 36, is one of the inhabitants from Maraguda village, and lives with a family of six.
She says, “If there had been no lockdown, I would have made nearly 2000 to 3000 rupees. This is the only source of our income through which we run our household expenses.”
They have received the dry rations for 3 months and pension for 4 months in advance, but that is not enough for their households.
It is important to note that there is the urgency to take immediate proactive long-term measures during and after this lock-down situation, by the Government for the benefits of these most marginalized communities.
Status of Paharia as tribals in Odisha has to be considered by the Central Government as this is already recommended by state government.
These precautionary measures will be helpful for the communities during times of distress.