The district of Koraput in Orissa State is one of the largest districts in India. It is situated between Madhya Pradesh in the west and Andhra Pradesh in the east and also bordering the districts of Kanjam, Puphani and Kalahandi in the north. A very large part of the districts cover by a vast hill tract with dense forests extending form south to the north-eastern part of the district covering the tahsils of Motu, Malkangiri, Jeypore, Koraput, Nandhapur, Rayagada, Kashipur, Bissam-Cuttack and Gunupur. The district is connected with roads and railways to the neighbouring districts and states. There are three major rivers flowing into the district namely, Indravathi, Kolab and Saleru.

Nearly 13,34,715 hectares are covered by forests. The principal and minor forest produces are timber bamboo, tamarind, genduli gum, sal seed, miro balm and honey. Nearly 42,693.81 hectares are under cultivation, major agricultural produces being paddy, maize, millet, sugarcane, niger, mustard, till, tobacco and jute.


Koraput district is heavily populated with adhivasis and harijans. The total population according to 1971 census was about 20,43,281 of which 53.34 percent are adhivasis. Of the total population of the state, the adhivasi and harijan communities comprise of 38.21 percent (24.11% are adhivasis and 14.10% are harijans). Nearly 80% of them live in rural areas engaging themselves primarily in agriculture.


In general, the adhivasis of this area live on the hills, isolated from the stream of civilization. They are still primitive in their social and cultural patterns of life and are scheduled as Tribals by the government gazette. They are socially, economically, and politically backward. They profess no particular religion. They are scattered into small hamlets on the hills. 

By far, family is the basic social unit and several such families from an adhivasi community. There are different adhivasi groups having different ethnic and cultural background. However, the influence of an hierarchical modern Hindu society is gradually setting into the tribals groups and the same is being reflected in the form of the tribals elite becoming part of the power structure and obtaining for themselves sophisticated social functions such as taking leadership in the panchayaths and becoming participants in decision making. The ones living on the hills are shy and introverts. Some groups, which live in the interior and considered most primitive and tribalistic have now become sober, docile, and developed love and respect for other human beings. 

Their simplicity, communal solidarity and harmonious living have now become altered to a certain extent because of the influence of the others from the plains. Industrial development has displaced so many adhivasi families form their immediate environment and they have to take shelter in places alien to them.

It is estimated that there are more than twenty adhivasi groups living in this district. Some of the significant groups are the Porjas, Bothras, Kandhabas, Koyas, Kondha, Bhumiyas, Saures, and Bondas - the most backward among them being the Kondh, Kandhabas, Sauras (Lanja Saures) Parengas and Bondas. Each of these adhivasi groups has its won social and cultural values and practices. Most of their activities are traditional and hereditary.

Notes on some of the Major Adhivasi Groups:

1.Bothras - They speak slang Oriya. They live on the hills as well as on the plains. The Bothras living on the plains follow the Hindu culture. Their primary occupation is agriculture and are richer than the adhivasis of the hills. They claim to be superior to those on the hills. They are known to have hailed from Jagadalpur area of Madhya Pradesh. They wear the 'scared thread' as the caste Hindus. They are found mainly in Borigama, Nowrangpur, Kotpad, Dabugham and Umarkote areas.

Muriya Bothra - These people also speak slang Oriya living on the plains with the other Bothra community. They migrated from Jagadalpur area and claim that they also belong to original Bothra community. Though they have the same cultural habits as Bothras, they are treated inferior to Bothras. They are concentrated on the northern side of the Koraput district bordering the state of Madhya Pradesh.

2. Kadhabas - They are further divided into two sub-groups depending on the place of their settlement. They speak their own language Kadhaba and also slang Oriya. Their occupation is agriculture. Boda Kadhabas are living on the hills and Paregi Kadhabas on the plains. Kadhabas who are living on the plains claim that they are superior to Boda Kadhabas. They follow the Hindu way of life and are influenced by the urban civilization. They have migrated from the hills for their economic activity and now living in the areas of Ramagiri, Dasamanthpur, Kotpad, Goyindhapalli, Malkangiri and Duduma.

Didayi Kadhaba - They speak their own language called Didavi. They are engaged in agriculture and are confined only to Koraput area. They also speak slang Oriya. They do not intermingle with other Kadhabas.

3. Koyas - They speak Koya language and slang Oriya. They live on the hills as well as on the plains. They are spread out in Malkangiri area. They are engaged in agriculture. They cultivate jute, which was introduced recently by the Bengal Refugees, settled in that area.

4. Soura - These people have migrated from Andhra living in Malkangiri bordering the state of Andhra. They speak Telugu and slang Oriya. They are also settled on the plains and on the hills. They are engaged in agriculture and maintain good relations with Koyas. 
5. Porjas - They speak their Porja language and slang Oriya. They are engaged in agriculture. They are living in Jeypore, Koraput, Nandhapur, Malkangiri, Borigama, and Nowrangpur. Most of the porjas had migrated from Nandhapur area during Zamindar's period. They are five sub-groups among them which are as follows:

(a) Sunna Porja - Living in Kakiriguma
(b) Jadayi Porja - Living in Kakiriguma, Pindupatt and Dasamanthpur
(c) Pengo Porja - Living in Laxmipur, and Toyaput area
(d) Didayi Porja - Living in Malkangiri, Koraput and Gudumalguma area
They speak Didavi language similar to Didayi Kandhle language 
(e) Duduga Porja- They speak slang Oriya. They are agriculturists. They live in the areas between Koraput and Borigama towards west of the district

Each group has its own cultural practices and claim its superiority over other groups.

6. Bhumiyas - They speak slang Oriya. They are called as Mativas in some places. They are cultivators. They are a minority community living in Borigama, Ramagiri, Jeypore, Boipariguda and in Mathili area. They are considered inferior to Bothras and Porjas.

7. Kondhs - They speak slang Oriya and Kuvi. They are spread over the eastern side of the district. They are cultivators living on the plains and on the hills of Bissam- Cuttack, nearer to Jeypore and towards Koraput, from Kakiriguma towards Rayagada, from Pottangi upto Sunki. They are also called as 'Kondha Porjas' and they are economically backward. The Kondhs have a sub-group called 'Kuttiya Kondh'. They speak Kuttiye Kondh language. They are cultivators living in Chandarpur area.

8. Savora - They speak Savora language. They are widely spread over Gunpur and Bissam-Cuttack area. They are living in the border districts of Ganjam, Kalahandi and Baudhkondamals. They are also cultivators.

9. Gondias - They speak Koya language. They live in the interior hills of Malkangiri towards Madhya Pradesh. They are still very primitive and tribalistic. They are mainly hunters and a few do cultivation. They have marriage relations with the Koyas living in borders of Andhra.

10. Bondas - They speak their own Bonda language and slang Oriya. They are living on the plains of Koraput area and on the hills of Bonda Ghat in Malkangiri tehsil. Bonda Ghat is spread from Machkund to Balimela. There are about forty villages. They're about 3500 families with a total population of about 13000. Bondas living on the plains are more civilized than those living on the hills. Bondas on the hills are very primitive, half naked and uncivilized. Usually no outsider is allowed to visit a Bonda village unless permitted by the government authorities. It is said that they are very dangerous, aggressive and easily excited. During October after the first harvest, they celebrate a festival called "Pat Kondu". Outsiders are not allowed in their villages during the festivals.

11. Raj Gonds - They live in Umarkote and Kotpad areas bordering the state of Madhya Pradesh. They are cultivators and most of them are well to do. Therefore, they consider themselves superior to other adhivasis as the name itself indicates. 

12. Halva - They speak the language Halvi. They are living in Malkangiri and Mathili area. They are cultivators. They are treated as very backward among adhivasis.

13. Dhurva - They speak slang Oriya. They are cultivators. They live in Mathili, Malkangiri, Kundra and between Jeypore and Kotpad areas.

14. Lanja Saura - They speak their own language. They are food gatherer and hunters living in the interior hills of Chandrapur. They are also very backward.


The second major social group in Koraput district is the Harijans. They are widely spread all over the state. Their main occupation is menial services. They are sub-divided in terms of their professions and this contributes to a kind of social stratification among them. They are agricultural labourers at the same time engage themselves in their caste professions such as drumbeaters, cobblers and dhobis.

Harijans are generally converted to Christianity. This they have done consciously in order to get economic benefits from the missionaries and the churches, and also to obtain respectability to different living and working conditions. 

Harijans are sub-divided into many sub-castes. Between themselves, they differ in food habits and some cultural practices. Each of these sub-castes claims superiority of status over others.

Description of the some of the major caste groups:

1. Domes - Traditionally they are drumbeaters, employed during festivals as well as family and community ceremonies. They are commonly considered as criminals, which is nothing but social stigma. They are called Domes because of the sound of the drum 'dom dom' while beating.

2. Gonds - Gonds are used for errands of the village leaders (panchayathdars). They serve as official orderlies of the village. Each village has a gond family.

3. Ghasiyas - Most of the Ghasiyas live near urban areas. They are engaged in basket making and do scavenging in the municipalities. During the feudal period, they were known to have worked in the Zamin's stables rearing horses.

4. Dhobis - They live generally in the villages and also at the outskirts of the towns. They launder for the people of the towns.

5. Samar - They are cobblers settled in urban areas mending shoes and chappals.

6. Pallis - They are also part of the Samar caste but do only tanning work (processing hides of animals). Pallis are considered the lowest among the harijans.

7. Bowris - Bowris do all miscellaneous jobs such as coolies, porters, rickshaw-pullers errand jobs, etc.

8. Bhois - They are fishermen. They sell fish and also process dry fish for selling.

Other than the adhivasi and harijan communities who are classified under scheduled tribes and castes, there are other backward class groups in this district.

1. Komars - Blacksmiths
2. Kumbars - engaged in pottery
3. Goudas - Cattle grazers
4. Sundis - engaged in illicit brewing


More than 80 percent of the adhivasis and harijans are engaged in agriculture. Nearly, 60 percent of the adhivasis live below the poverty line. Most of them are in debts. Illiteracy, lack of communication, unhygienic ways of living, suffering from common and preventable diseases, child mortality are part of their lives. The main reason for their backwardness is the prolonged alienation from the main stream of the developed society. The economic activity is fashioned as per economic activity is fashioned as per ecological conditions and traditions. The adhivasis are generally unorganized and non-monetised. Exploitation is rampant in the adhivasi areas. They borrow for their daily consumption or for the celebration of their ceremonies. The loan is usually in kind and is repaid through their labour. A few harijans also function as moneylenders and middlemen.

Adhivasis depend primarily on agriculture and other minor occupations such as simple artisanship and trading. The economic development is not uniform. The economically privileged adhivasis adapt the Hindu way of life thereby claiming an upward mobility in the social hierarchy. Most of the adhivasis accept indebtedness as inevitable and inescapable. A large percentage of their income goes to the moneylenders, traders, and landlords. Mining, quarrying, hydro-electric projects and industries have displaced many adhivasis and also have disturbed them form their routine economic activity, this they have accepted as a curse of their fate.

Some of their economic activities:

1. Collection of Firewood and Charcoal:

Most of the landless labourers make their livelihood during non-agricultural seasons by collecting firewood and charcoal. They carry firewood and charcoal on their shoulders to the nearby villages or to the urban areas they usually get around Rs.4/- per load. This is a far less price for what it is worth in the market. The men, women, and children are engaged in selling firewood and charcoal. They also have to pay to the forest officials, lest they may be refused permission to cut wood.

2. Labourers working on land:

The wages usually differ from place to place and according to the nature of the work, they are engaged in. Wages are paid as follows:

Labour              Working Hours Cash        or                Kind
Male 6 am to 6 pm Rs. 4/- to 5/- 5 manams of food grain
Female                  6 am to 6 pm Rs. 2/- to 3/- 3 manams of food grain
Child labour 6 am to 6 pm Rs.1/- to 2/- 2 manams of food grain
Bonded labour All the time Up to Rs.800/-per year with food


3. Collection of Forest Products:

Adhivasis collect forest products like honey, sal seeds, mova seeds, genduli gum, tamarind, wax, medicinal plants, etc. They sell these products in the weekly market to the traders directly for a lower price, either for kind or cash. They too have to pay the forest officials to get the commodities out of the forests.

4. Shifting Cultivation:

This is quite common and is called as "Podu" cultivation. This is a primitive form of agricultural practice, usually undertaken by the low-income groups. The adhivasis belonging to Bonda, Didayi, Koya, Porja, Kadhaba, Kondhs, Lanja Soara and some non-adhivasis are engaged in this type of agriculture. Adhivasis engaged in this process cut trees on the slopes of the hills and clear the bushes. They allow the felled trees and bushes to dry and then burn them. Later they spread the ashes in the cleared area and plough. The ploughing is usually done manually with the help of axes and hoes. Bullocks are also used in the lower slopes of the hills. This preparatory period extends to nearly three months in a year (Jan-March).

This being a mixed crop pattern nearly 10 to 12 different varieties of seeds (maize, ragi, pulses, and vegetables, etc.) are shown whose harvesting time differ from each other. Harvesting begins after six months and extends to nearly three months. When the yield goes down to lower rate the place of cultivation is shifted.

Since this process leads to deforestation and subject to prevention by law, people who are engaged in this type of cultivation have no legal rights over this occupation as well as the land of cultivation. In the absence of an economic alternative, they continue to do so establishing their customary and hereditary rights. For example, the Koyas claim that it is their legal property inherited by their legal heirs. What is more intriguing is that the people who are engaged in this activity pay tax for this ("Jangal Panu") to the government though this is unauthorized. They use very simple instruments made indigenously and the cultivator is helped by his whole family for labour and live in these fields during the period of harvest. They are particularly not keen on modern methods of production because of their inapplicability to that situation. Another interesting feature of this cultivation is that some of their religious practices are being associated with it. For example, the 'choitra parva' in March and April signifies the sowing and the 'pausa parva' festival during December and January signifies the period of harvest, thus denoting the beginning and the end of the cultivation.

Besides this shifting cultivation, a few groups of adhivasis have accepted stable cultivation and 'savora cultivation', which is also called, terrace cultivation. This signifies a change in the attitude of the adhivasis towards a more permanent and settled life pattern. 

5. Simple Artisanship:

Most of the Harijans living in this area are making their living through cottage and village industries. They are generally skilled workers doing mat weaving and basket making. They sell their products in the nearby village markets. There are also people involved in gold and blacksmithy. Some of them are also engaged in brick making, pottery and cattle rearing.


There are weekly markets where villagers assemble for selling their produce and buying consumer goods. The market places are open yards with or without thatched sheds. People come to markets trekking 10 to 20 kilometers. They carry the produce on their shoulders with a pole, to the ends of which the loads are attached. Only women carry head loads. Firewood to cattle comes to the market. The villagers sell the goods to the middlemen unaware of the market price. Invariably the buyer is the middleman or agent of the wholesaler. The seller is always at disadvantage in the bargaining. The villager cannot carry back the unsold goods. He is therefore forced to sell for any price. Further, he has to take home consumer articles required for the whole week. It is learnt that none of the middlemen or trader is form the adhivasi community. 

Village markets are places of social gathering and economic activity. Atleast in these places they come into contact with other communities. Even the little bit of civilization they learn in these markets. Even barter system is still prevalent. In the evening before returning, they enjoy eating and drinking particularly during post harvest days.

6. Cultural (Religious) Aspect:

Most of their cultural activities or religious practices are centred around their agricultural occupations and seasons. A season is generally referred to as 'Rithu' in Oriya. According to them there are six rithus. Most of the social functions and religious ceremonies are also based on these seasons.

Their religious life, their faith and understanding of God are primitive. They worship their deity usually made up of a log of embedded wood or a block of stone. In their understanding the phenomenon of exploitation, slavery and bonded ness are laws of nature or the 'divine will', which cannot be avoided. The parva or religious augury or drinking habits makes them lazy and their labour cheap. There are differences in the worshipping pattern of adhivasis of the hills and of the plains. In fact the adhivasis living on the plains follow most of the socially stratified Hindu way of life and claim their supremacy over the adhivasis of the hills. The adhivasis converted to Christianity, though rejected certain ceremonial activities of worship, do not isolate themselves completely from the other adhivasis.

Marriage is by far the most binding factor of the adhivasis. After marriage the couple is encouraged to live separately, thus forming a nuclear social unit. In this area the bridegroom has to pay the 'bride-price' which is mostly given in kind such as bullocks, goats, wine or agricultural products. They celebrate the wedding collectively as a community, feast together on such occasions thereby expressing their corporate living. There are different forms in which a couple is joined together. If it is fixed by parents and the demand price is fixed by them, it is known as 'suthrani'. In 'gorijuang' method the bride and bridegroom are allowed to challenge each other in singing or in games. They engage in the form of questions and answers in singing and if the bridegroom loses, he also misses the bride or sometimes he is made to work on the land of the bride's father and if his ability to work on land is satisfactory then the marriage is arranged. There is yet another practice which is called 'uthiliya'. It is an indirect form of elopement. The bride is carried away by the bridegroom and both disappear from their immediate environment. Widow remarriage is generally allowed. The inter-group marriages are also being encouraged.

In conclusion, the Koraput district can easily be classified as the most backward. But it is a paradox in itself. Because it is hard to believe that the people of Koraput area are poor when the land of Koraput is so very rich and fertile with natural as well as created resources. A number of projects are being developed by both the government as well as voluntary agencies. But unfortunately, the direct beneficiaries of such programmes are also the ones who are already privileged and well to do. People of this area, and especially the adhivasis and harijans of Koraput need food, justice and freedom.

- William Stanley