“Ours is the first educated family in the tribe in Malkhangiri,” she says.
Mera number nou hain (My number is nine),” says Jayanti Buruda while smiling coyly – referring to ten of her other siblings.
Girls among the Koya tribe have a staggeringly low literacy level. “Girls hardly go to school, the literacy rate among girls is below 15 percent,” she adds. With little infrastructure for education and a strong tradition of early marriages within the community, most girls are bereft of any formal education.
However, encouraged by their father, Jayanti and her four sisters have been educated. “Ours is the first educated family in the tribe in Malkhangiri,” she says. Her sister, in fact, is the first graduate of the community.
Even the girls who go to school try to get just the minimum education to get a job,” she says. But Jayanti’s dream was far beyond being just a graduate. She wanted to become a journalist, a profession that was alien to her family and her community.
“My parents weren’t sure how to react to my decision. There wasn’t much money to educate me. Yet they supported me”
Jayanti studied journalism at the Central University of Odisha, 150 km away from home. “I couldn’t afford the hostel fees. Fortunately, a friend’s uncle and his family took me in. I lived in their home and completed my journalism course. They took care of me like their own daughter,”
Later she had to move to Bhubaneswar for her internship, but financial problems still came in her way. Help came in the form of filmmaker Biren Das, who took her in and trained her under his guidance.
Today, she is an inspiration to many young girls from the Koya tribe, as the first female voice from the tribe to enter the mainstream media.
Jayanti currently works with Kalinga TV and reports from Malkangiri. Malkangiri is known as one of the most Naxalite-affected areas of Odisha. It also became home to Bangladeshi refugees who were rehabilitated from 1965 under the Dandakaranya Project. In the early 90s, thanks to the LTTE, Sri Lankan Tamil refugees were also rehabilitated here.
Jayanti’s dream to become a journalist has come true, but she still faces several challenges on the ground. “Being the only woman journalist on the field in Malkangiri is difficult. There is a lot of gender discrimination. Male colleagues seldom take me or my work seriously. I need to fight at every step,”
Apart from this, there is always the lingering suspicion of the police. “Because I am educated, a tribal, a woman and can speak English, the police think I am a Maoist,” she says.
Apart from being a journalist Jayanti also runs her NGO that focuses on education, especially for girls from her tribal community.
Jayanti stands at the crossroads of two worlds. I ask her if she has thought of leaving to a bigger city, for better prospects, maybe some more money. She looks determined and says, “This is where I belong. This is where my roots are. My education will be useless if I don’t work for my own community,”
Article and Interview by Lakshmi Karunakaran
First published on The Better India