‘Save Odisha’s Dongria Kondhs, Bondas from COVID-19’

Activists and writers urge State government to protect particularly vulnerable tribes.

Activists and writers have urged the Odisha government to take immediate steps to the prevent loss of lives among Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) like the Dongria Kondh and Bonda due to COVID-19.

In a petition addressed to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, over 70 intellectuals expressed their concerns over rising COVID-19 positive cases among PVTGs.

They said home quarantine as a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19, as suggested by the State government, would not work as privacy and isolation hardly exist within communities in tribal culture.

Requesting the government to protect the lives of PVTGs, they proposed the government set up quarantine centres exclusively for tribals within 2 km of their settlements.

“Door to door surveys must be done by a team of trained local volunteers from villages for regular monitoring of symptoms, and reporting to quarantine centres for any suspected cases,” said Prafulla Samantara, recipient of Goldman Environmental Prize, who is known for his work with Dongria Kondhs.

“All the Dongria and Bonda families must be provided with a special livelihood relief package as compensation for their agriculture and minor forest produce (MFP), which they cannot sell in the local markets that are non-functional due to the prolonged shutdown or lockdown,” said Lingaraj Azad, convenor of Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti.

Activists demanded the distribution of health kits comprising of three layered masks, necessary medicines and vitamins. They laid emphasis on upgradation of all primary health centres located in tribal areas on a war footing, and provisioning of manpower, medical equipment, medicines and other infrastructure.

More than 100 tribals among 10 out of 13 PVTGs have been affected by COVID-19.

Legislators of the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, too, appealed to the Odisha CM to take steps to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in tribal pockets and villages.

Meanwhile, the State Schedule Tribe and Scheduled Caste Development Department directed its field level functionaries that, in the absence of proper quarantine facilities at home for PVTGs, affected persons should be facilitated to stay in suitable institutional quarantine for a period as prescribed by local authorities.

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