Sitting outside their one-room concrete house,Neka Mankidia and his grandson Akash relish a bowl of pakhala (rice fermented in water) with fried drumstick leaves. As rainclouds gather over the Khadia and Mankidia Colony in Kendumundi village,Mayurbhanj,they show no urgency about entering the 10-foot-square house,built by the government in 1987.
What is the point of living in a cave? There is no window, says Neka. The moment I enter,I feel suffocated. The roof leaks,and if I light a lantern,the room heats up.
They share the colony with 38 other families of Mankidia and Hill Khadia tribals. Almost all the houses are without windows. Some have skylights,some not even that. A few have window spaces marked,but no windows. One such house is being used as a storehouse. Since the colony was built,several new houses have been added,but the absence of windows remains a common feature.
Just opposite Nekas house,Jamuna Mankidia struggles to get her little son some sleep. Her house has a skylight,but she needs to keep the door open for ventilation. At night,she and her husband retreat to a leaf house next to the concrete structure.
Living mostly in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts,the Mankidia population was 1,050 as per the 2001 census. The colony was an effort to get the peripatetic Mankidias,who moved around in forests in search of monkeys,to settle in one place.
We were just asked to stay there. Recently,when a government official came here to get the roof repaired,I asked about having a window. The official said there was no such budget provision, says Siba Mankidia. Girish Mankidia has a house with a small window. But he cannot sleep there during the summer,and has built a leaf house next to it.
There is no electricity either. The primary health centre less than 100 metres away does have power. The colony has a multipurpose centre,which also doubles up as a primary school; it has windows and a fluorescent lamp,waiting for electricity.
The only job Mankidias have is collecting and selling sal and siali leaves. We can sell about 5,000 leaves a week in the local market and earn Rs 500, says Sapani Mankidia.
Special officer,Hill Khadia and Mankidia Development Agency,Santosh Mishra says no tribal has ever complained to him about the absence of windows in their houses. This is a micro-project and Rs 1 crore is allocated every year. I have asked the BDO to provide electricity.
Orissa director of tribal development A B Ota,too,says no one has ever told him about the houses being without windows. This is unacceptable, he says. We have lots of money. We can always build windows in their homes and provide electricity.