Travelling in Sundergarh with the Pauri Bhuyian was thanks to Sanjog Sahu, for he introduced me to the taciturn Bhajamana Mahanta who runs Jivan Vikas since 2010. This rural NGO of 18 gentle Odiyas runs on a shoestring, and valiantly works to raise the awareness of this adivasi community about their rights in scores of villages in the beautiful mountaineous forests of Sundergarh. I was stunned by the beauty of the area, the simplicity of life, the trust the Jivan Vikas team have engendered in each village by the steady work they have done.
I am a sceptic of 'development' and all that it implies in contemporary India, which in Odisha is a patriarchal view of adivasi lives by the non-adivasis, a certain looking-down-and-greedy gaze on all aspects of their forest lives. Yes, there are roads till most villages, many primary schools, health care centers, mid day meals, hostels for adivasi children; but equally there is malnutrition, corruption, land grab, few livelihoods - and a disappearing way of life. Not all that was in the past was an ideal, just as not everything in the future is - what society needs is a mindful view of the acceptable, the good and the bad and a considered path to improve the lives of all. Where does happiness figure in all this? I have more questions than answers, but certainly the present in the tribal lives I witnessed so-briefly has much that should be protected - starting with their rivers and streams, their forests and mountains. Economical and social development that devastates nature is no path to tread on.
More later in my travel essay. For now, please see these beautiful people.