How the uncharted hills of Chhattisgarh are navigating the pandemic

Abujhmad, Chhattisgarh, tribals
People living in villages tucked away in forest clearings need to come to Orchha, a small town in Narayanpur district that serves as the only portal for these villagers to the outside world | Photo - Abhijat Shukla

Tucked in one of the remotest corners of Chhattisgarh, Abujhmad—a vast swathe of forests—literally means inexplicable hills in local Gondi language. True to its name, this vast 4,000 sq km area—larger than Goa—is largely insulated from the tapestry of modernity even after 73 years of India’s independence.

And it is this isolation, policymakers in Chhattisgarh now believe, that proved to be a blessing during the pandemic for some of India’s oldest aboriginal tribes—Gond, Muria, Abuj Maria, and Halbaas—who inhabit this vast landscape masked by thick impenetrable forests covering mineral-rich Narayanpur, Bijapur and Dantewada districts.

“No native tribe has been infected by COVID-19 so far, thanks to their self-isolation,” claims Narayanpur deputy collector Fagesh Sinha.

But Sinha as well as others in the region are well aware that this isolation could be a mixed blessing as experts around the world have warned that arrival of an alien virus amid them could be devastating for the aborigines.

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