Two years after the Orissa government drew flak for bringing in around 250 tribals to pose as live models during its annual Adivasi Mela, state officials have done one better — or worse. At the tribal fair this year that began on January 26, the Orams, a dominant tribe of Sundargarh, are represented by an effigy that can be mistaken for a scarecrow armed with a bow and arrow. And the stall dedicated to the aboriginal Bathudis is empty but for a couple of monkey models.
Live models have made a return, with an old Santhal tribal standing within his barricaded space playing the musical instrument kendara. As a visitor mocks him, asking, “Where have you come from? This instrument does not look real”, the Santhal man looks ill at ease.
While in the Khadia stall officials have stationed Jayanand Bag from Sundargarh, manning the Chakutia Bhunjia counter are young Nirma Bai and Chandni Bai. “We went to Nandankanan (zoo) in the morning. Now we have to sit here till 9 pm,” said Chandni.
At the Munda stall, brothers Lelen Barla and Kisan Barla hung around a makeshift hut wearing a white dhoti and vest. “We don’t even live in these kinds of huts anymore,” smiled elder Lelen. Sunaram Giri, a Paudi Bhuyan tribal from Khuntugan of Sundargarh district, stands listless in his stall. Counters of aborigine tribes such as Munda and Saura too have live models. The tribals said they were being paid Rs 150 a day apart from food, up from the 2012 remuneration of Rs 100 each.
The fair was inaugurated by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Incidentally, the mela this time is sponsored by companies such as Essel Mining, Tata Steel and Orissa Mining Corporation which have been named in the Justice M B Shah Commission report on mining in the state. The commission said tribals in Keonjhar and Sundargarh would have been millionaires had they been given even 10 per cent of the value of the iron ore and manganese extracted.
Santhals and Orams are among the 62 tribal groups of Orissa, constituting around 22 per cent of the tribal population of 4.19 crore. BJP national vice-president Jual Oram, who belongs to the Oram tribe, said the displays were shameful. “These comic representations show how much the government loves tribals,” he said sarcastically. Activist Prafulla Samantra, who fought for the rights of Dongaria Kondh tribals in Kalahandi district, said: “It’s time we stopped the mela. The CM has only made the life of tribals miserable. Fairs of this sort denigrate them.”