Bhubaneswar, Jan. 21: Dhabalu Sisa, 41, and Samari Sisa, 46 – a couple belonging to the Bonda community who have never stepped outside Odisha – will leave for New Delhi tomorrow to attend the Republic Day function as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s guests.
The state government will bear all the expenses of the trip.
The Bondas are categorised as particularly vulnerable tribal community with only 7,000 of them living in the hills of Malkangiri district. The Sisa couple hail from Baliguda village in Malkangiri, part of the undivided Koraput district.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik today felicitated the couple at the secretariat with flower bouquets and shawls. The couple were accompanied by their eldest daughter, who is pursuing Plus Two arts at Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences here. The chief minister gifted a laptop to the girl.
The couple will be staying in New Delhi till February 2. They will also attend a tea party to be hosted by President Pranab Mukheerjee. They will also meet the Vice-President and visit various monuments in and around Delhi.
The Sisa couple were dressed in their traditional attire during their meeting with the chief minister. The only break from tradition was the branded shoes and socks that they wore, both courtesy SC and ST development department.
Samari Sisa , who is the head of the family, said: “I had earlier come to Bhubaneswar to attend the Republic Day function. But, I had never thought of going to New Delhi.”
Samari, who is married to five-year younger Dhabalu, said: “Thirty years ago, when I got married to him, I never thought that one day I will be flying with him in an aeroplane. We have no idea what it looks like. But now, I am going to experience it.”
Samari, who is also the member of a self-help group in Malkangiri, has played a vital role in spreading education among the Bonda community members. “I had seen chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s photograph but never thought that I would have a chance to meet him personally, along with my family members.”
Though the couple have heard name of Narendra Modi, they have no idea who is the President or the Vice-President of the country and what does Lal Quila looks like. “Though we are not literate, we will ensure that all my four daughters and one son get proper education. I will make my elder daughter a teacher.”
The couple, who fall under the BPL category, said the state government had given them four acres three years ago and they were now engaged in podu (slash and burn) cultivation for their survival. While they are growing paddy in one acre, they have planted cashew nuts and mango trees in the rest of the land.
The Bondas, who are of Austro-Asiatic origin, call themselves as Remo (man) and have been living in thatched huts in the 3,000-ft-high wild and inaccessible region of Malkangiri since ages. They are isolated from the mainstream and rarely descend from their hill home. Their isolation and aggressive behaviour continue to preserve their culture despite the anthropogenic pressures.
Their language belongs to the Munda branch of the Austro-Asiatic language family and is difficult to understand. Originally, they used to survive on hunting, but with the vanishing forest cover and wildlife, they are now switching over to cultivation.
Significantly, women enjoy a privileged position in the Bonda society. They are the primary workers and providers of food to the community. Bonda girls marry boys, who are at least five to ten years younger than them.