Covid-19 Reaches Remote Tribes of Odisha

  • After six members of two primitive tribes in Odisha contracted Covid-19, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has sought a report from the state government.
  • In what the commission has termed a “matter of grave concern”, one member of the Bonda tribe and five from the Didayi tribe tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

       What is a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group?

  • A PVTG (earlier, primitive tribal group) is a Government of India classification for tribes based on their relative physical isolation, stagnant or declining population, low levels of literacy and pre-agricultural stage of economy, such as hunting, food gathering, shifting cultivation and terrace cultivation.
  • The classification was adopted by the GOI after the Dhebar Commission (1960-1961) stated that within the Scheduled Tribes there existed an inequality in the rate of development.
  • During the fourth Five Year Plan, a sub-category was created within Scheduled Tribes to identify groups at a lower level of development. This sub-category was called “Primitive tribal group”, which is now PVTG.

       What are the PVTGs in Odisha?

  • Of the 62 tribal groups in Odisha, 13 are recognised as PVTGs – the highest in the country.
  • The PVTGs of the state have been identified as Bonda, Birhor, Chuktia, Bhunjia, Didayi, Dungaria, Kandha, Hill Kharia, Juang, Kutia Kondh, Lanjia Saora, Lodha, Mankirida, Paudi, Bhuyan and Saora.
  • The Bondas and Didiayis are found in the Malkangiri district of the state, which shares its border with Andhra Pradesh on the east and south and Chhattisgarh on the west.
  • The Bondas are believed to have come to India as part of the first wave of migration out of Africa about 60,000 years ago.
  • The Didayis – a little known Austro-Asiatic tribe – live in the immediate neighbourhood of the Bondas.

Why is PVTG members contracting Covid a ‘matter of grave concern?

  • According to the 2018 newsletter of the Poverty and Human Development Monitoring Agency (PHDMA), Government of Odisha, which covered the socio-economic status of PVTGs,
  • “The health status of PVTGs is low due to multiple factors like poverty, illiteracy, lack of safe drinking water, poor sanitary conditions, difficult terrain, malnutrition, poor access to maternal and child health care services, superstition, nonavailability of adequate health care services and deforestation.”
  • The government newsletter also states that diseases like upper respiratory problem and malaria, gastrointestinal disorders like acute diarrhoea and intestinal protozoa, micro nutrient deficiency, and skin infection are common among them.