They live atop the Bonda hills in Odisha’s Malkangiri district, segregated from the mainstream and have rarely stepped out of their environs, so an invitation to attend this year’s Republic Day parade in the national capital was beyond their dreams.

 For Dhabalu Sisa (41) and his wife Samari (46), an invitation letter from Prime Minister Narendra Modi inviting them to Delhi for the parade on January 26, changed everything and they have not stopped beaming since, an official of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) told PTI.

The Bondas are members of the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG). Dhabalu and Samari reside in Bandiguda village under Mudulipada gram panchayat of Malkangiri district.

b’Members of Bonda community | Source: PTI’

The couple may be first from the community to go to Delhi and shake hands with President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the official said. 

““Meeting the President and Prime Minister is something we could not have imagined in life. We will use this opportunity to highlight our problems and how the tribe suffer due to the vagaries of nature,” said an elated Dhabalu. 

He is younger than his wife Samari as Bonda community has the tradition of girls marrying boys less than their age.

Samari, a mother of five children, one son and four daughters, said she would draw attention of Prime Minister Modi to the poor road connectivity to the Bonda Hills. The couple have already started preparations for making their traditional dress for the Republic Day celebrations.

But it’s not just the Sisa couple, the whole village is ecstatic about the rare honour. They have been celebrating the invitation for one of their own with dance and music since the time they first heard about it. 

b’Republic day celebration in Delhi | Source: PTI’

“I will accompany the Bonda couple to Delhi. As they do not understand any other language, I need to be by their side,” Ramakrushna Ganda, the project administrator of Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), told PTI. 

Ganda said the couple would meet Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik before leaving for Delhi. He also said the population of Bonda community is about 7,000. 

“Now, the state government has set up two high schools and a residential hostel for girls of Bonda community students in Mudulipada area,” he said. 

Myth has it that the Bondas, who recently started use of clothes, believed that they were cursed by Goddess Sita, as they laughed at her while she was bathing in a kunda (pond) which is named as Sita Kunda at Bonda Hill. Since then, they have remained naked or semi-nude.