Brooms of wild grass, clay pots made using two different types of clay, desi ducks, varieties of home grown vegetables, local masala mixes, neem and other oils, mahua liquor, edible ants and other forest produce jostle for space with tailors, barbers and food stalls.

This is the haat (weekly market) at Jurudi which is set up every Tuesday. Village elders tell us that the market has had an uninterrupted run since at least the 1940s.

“As a young child, I often accompanied my parents when they came to this market. I recall that when my marriage was fixed, my father bought utensils, clothes, and other items from here. I also shopped here for my daughter’s marriage,” says Lalita Nayak. The 75-year-old from Jalahari village has come to pick up some household essentials today.

Like her, many thousands are expected to stop by – from dawn to dusk – the operating hours for this haat in Joda block of Kendujhar (also spelt Keonjhar) district. “A variety of things are available here. You can buy everything here…except your father and mother,” says Lalita, laughing.

We are a group of middle school students who have come to observe and learn about Jurudi haat, the biggest one in our area. We arrived here at 5 a.m. from our homes in Jajanga, two kilometres away, and watched the vendors putting up their stalls. The last five kilometres to the haat is a kuccha road. “There are so many potholes and in the monsoon season, if someone falls off their bike they will not be able to get up again!” our teacher, Sudeepa Senapati said jokingly, as we walked here.

Sellers and buyers come from as far as 40 kilometres away – on foot, on cycles, motorcycles, tempos and by bus – from the neighbouring blocks of Banspal, Jhumpura and Champua.

This is a largely rural district of Odisha with 86 per cent of the population of 18,01,733 residing in rural areas (Census 2011). Most of the sellers are Adivasis, landless folk, marginal farmers, Dalits and the elderly who rely almost completely on this weekly income to get by.

Such as Krishna Munda, a farmer and tailor from Chimila who is setting up his sewing machine which he carried in parts here, slung on his shoulders. In his sixties, he has been coming from his village in Champua block to this market every Tuesday for more than 10 years, or that’s how long he can recall. “I earn around 200 to 250 rupees making and repairing clothes here. No, I don’t have any permanent shop for my tailoring work,” he tells us.

Munda is a Kolha Adivasi and owns a bigha of land (less than half an acre) on which he grows grains like rice, black gram and green gram as well as vegetables. “I grow rice to eat, and sell only what is left,” he says.

Also a regular is ant seller Kinari Dehuri who has been coming here from her home in Phuljhar village in Banspal block for many years now. This 56-year-old paid Rs. 200 as bus fare to come to sell a few hundred grams of kurkuti (weaver ant), kulhari flowers (a local flower cooked as a vegetable), arum (taro) leaves and coffee senna (Senna occidentalis) among others. “I sell the kulhari flowers and kurkuti at 20 rupees for a bunch,” she says.

A Dalit farmer, Dehuri’s family owns 16 dismil (a sixth of an acre) on which they grow rice and vegetables. “We sold all our last rice harvest as the quality was not good and we couldn’t eat it. We used that money to buy rice in the market,” she says.

Left: Krishna Munda, a farmer and tailor from Chimila in Champua block, earns around 200 to 250 rupees tailoring and repairing clothes here. He grows rice, black gram, green gram and vegetables. Right: Minati Mundais selling oils made from pongame, kusum, neem and malika seeds. She also distills ‘handia’, a local liquor made from tree roots and rice which she sells at Rs. 50 for 250 grams

A few stalls away is Minati Munda, 55, who is selling oils made from pongame (Millettia pinnata), kusum (Schleichera oleosa), neem (Azadirachta indica), mahua (Madhuca longifolia) and malika mango seeds. A landless Kohla Adivasi from Rugudi Sahi, a hamlet near Jalahari village, Minati also distills ‘handia’, a local liquor which she sells at Rs. 50 for a quarter litre. “I make a pidia [paste] from mahua seeds that is used to cure ringworm and skin disease,” says Minati.

Soon all the stalls are up – some below blue tarpaulin sheets and some with the trees overhead as cover. Apart from forest products such as honey, mahua flowers, oils and wild mushrooms, vegetables like brinjal, tomato, cabbage, potato, onion, carrot and more are also on sale.

Bhuyan Adivasi, Kartik Nayak has come to shop, and he says, “people from more than 40 villages in Keonjhar district come here to buy essential commodities. For those living in remote hamlets and villages, this is the only place they can buy essential goods like salt, masala and oil.”

Or ducks, like the ones waddling around Sonu Munda. A 55-year-old Munda Adivasi farmer and duck breeder, he has brought along eight ducks today, leaving the rest of the 60 he owns back in his village Khandabandha in Telkoi block. One duck will sell for Rs. 650.

“The money I get from selling ducks feeds my family. I have 20 dismil [a fifth of an acre of land] but I can only afford to cultivate half of it; I leave half [the land] for grazing,” he explains.

If you’re looking for hens (as well as ducks), Chittaranjan Das from Rimuli has some for 450 to 500 a bird. He also sells in other haats at Kandara village, Bileipada hamlet and Rimuli.

A Dalit farmer, he has an acre of land. “We cultivate vegetables like potato, onion, garlic, cabbage, arum and ginger according to the season. We sell the rice we grow and instead eat the rice sold in the PDS (public distribution shops).

Also from Rimuli in Champua block is Bharati Kaibarta who has put out small, neat piles of dried fish on green saal leaves, ready to be tied up and sold. Dried varieties of fish such as rawala, prawn, elishi, kokila, shila and pita karandi are laid out in front of her.

Sudarshan Kaibarta in his late 60s, is from a village near Barbil town and has been coming here for the last three decades. He has laid out ready-mixed small parcels of masala for cooking local specialities – curries of chicken, vegetable and mushroom. Sudarshan owns no land and says he lives alone with his wife as his only son and daughter-in-law do not take care of them. “I plan to keep doing this to feed myself and my wife, but I will never beg,” he said.

Like Sudarshan, many of the sellers are elderly people with no land to fall back on. Take 74-year-old Sira John Kaland, a Ho Munda Adivasi from Kanakana village in Jhumpura block, he has brought baskets, fish traps, winnowers and other items made from bamboo. “I wish I could get a government pension scheme so that at this age I did not have to sell baskets to feed my family,” he said.

Dalit potter, Bharat Chandra Behera has come from Mahadevpur, 25 kilometres away where his family have been making pots for generations. He says he needs two types of clay – black and red along with sandy soil to make these pots. “I have to take permission from the forest department [to get the clay] and I have to give some bribes too,” he adds.

Bharat sells at Jurudi and also Ukhunda haat, and some other markets in Jhumpura block. A single pot sells for Rs. 200, and he says he can make a profit of a thousand rupees on a good day.

Finding the raw material for making brooms is not easy, says Mohammed Azad. “So I have increased the price from 10 rupees a piece to 50 rupees. I can earn upto 200 to 300 rupees profit each market day,” he said.

As dusk begins to fall, so do the prices. Vendors are willing to offload their goods at really low prices – 10 to 20 rupees a kilogram for vegetables. We notice piles of waste near stalls – plastic and discarded food and vegetables. Ragpickers are going through the waste for re-sellable plastics, and cows and buffaloes will come later for the discarded vegetables.

We pack up our things and start walking home to our village.

The middle school students who reported this piece did this as part of a lockdown learning initiative of non governmental organisation ASPIRE and the Tata Steel Foundation’s Thousand Schools Program. They did this story as part of a project to learn about their surroundings.

The PARI Education Team would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Sudeepa Senapati and Smita Agarwal for their help in coordinating this piece.

Editor's note

Ananya Topno, Rohit Gagrai, and Akash Eka (Class 6) and Pallabi Lugun (Class 7) are from Jajanga town in Joda block. Pallabi says, "Doing this kind of [research] work is something new for us. We saw people haggling with vegetable sellers, but we know how hard it is to grow vegetables so we wondered why people argue about prices with farmers?”

All the photos in this story were shot by Ananya Topno, Rohit Gagrai, Akash Eka and Pallabi Lugun.