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A tribal community that shuns modern life

By Sujeet Kumar, IANS

Sitapur (Chhattisgarh) : A tribal community that lives in caves and on hilltops far away from human settlements is refusing to accept a modern way of life despite the state government's best efforts.

The Pahari Korba indigenous community has a population of about 30,000 spread across the northern districts of Surguja, Korba and Jashpur in this central Indian state. Their literacy rate is below 4 percent and they have remained cut off from social mainstream for centuries.

In order to expose the community to the modern way of life, the government has brought a few members of the tribe from hilltops and caves to more populated areas and constructed houses for them. They have also been enrolled in schools.

The government has insured each Pahari Korba family and arranged health facilities free of cost for them. They are also given food at extremely cheap rates.

But in most cases, after spending a few weeks at government-made houses, they return to their traditional inaccessible areas at hilltops and valleys because they dislike human contact.

Officials admit that despite the government's all-out efforts, the tribal population is falling fast and the primitive way of life of the tribe is largely responsible for this.

"Though the government has managed to bring the Pahari Korbas to the mainstream in certain pockets of Surguja district, still over 90 percent of them are not responding to government schemes and run to hills when they spot any outsider," a senior official of the tribal department told IANS.

But those community members who have benefited from the government schemes are now trying to impress other Korba members to accept a new way of life.

"I am grateful to the authorities who have brought us into the mainstream over 8-10 years. We are wearing clothes, taking rice as food and even learning some English," Dilram Hasda, a Class 11 student and the most literate member of the community, told IANS in the village of Musakhol in Surguja district.

Hasda, 21, along with his newly wedded wife Elizabeth who has studied up to Class 8, is trying hard to persuade his colleagues to join schools and shed the centuries of isolated lives minus clothes and proper food in caves.

"We have been wearing clothes for about 10 years. But 90-95 percent of my tribal colleagues are still living naked, prefer live-in relationships and do not come down from hilltops," Musakhol village chief Budhan Sai said.

Musakhol falls in the Sitapur area, about 420 km north of Raipur and is represented by Congress leader Amarjeet Bhagat in the state assembly.

"They (Pahari Korbas) prefer death to civilization. Just about a few Korbas have come down from the hills and responded to government schemes," Bhagat said.

"Officials and middlemen are becoming richer from the huge money sanctioned for Pahari Korbas's welfare. But they still desire to live in the primitive era. Being an MLA of their area, I don't know what to do for them to save them from starvation and extinction," he said.

In Korba district, the Pahari Korba people indulge in live-in relationships and decide to marry or separate only after having children.

They rarely cross the age of 45 because they are vulnerable to serious diseases. They suffer mostly due to consumption of unhealthy forest products. Moreover, the community lives beyond the reach of health centres and doctors.