Tribes in News

Andhra’s Koya tribe faces brewing conflict over sacred Mahua flower


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Koya Tribe

Mains level: Legal Challenges and Rights

Why in the news?

The Koya tribe in Andhra Pradesh is facing a cultural crisis due to stricter liquor regulations enforced by the Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB).

About Koya tribe 

  • Koya are one of the few multi-racial and multi-lingual tribal communities in India.
  • They live in the forests, plains, and valleys on both sides of the Godavari River which lies in Andhra Pradesh. Many also live in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.
  • They believe their main deity still resides in a cave in the Bastar region.

Cultural Crisis (Disruption of Traditions):

  • Mahua liquor is brewed from the flowers of the Mahua tree which is integral to Koya cultural and religious ceremonies including naming ceremonies, weddings, and death anniversaries.
  • Police raids and seizures of Mahua liquor disrupt these traditions causing cultural shocks within the community. For example, recently the naming ceremony of Madakam Janakamma’s child was held without Mahua liquor due to SEB raids.

Tribal Rights (Legal Challenges and Rights):

  • The Andhra Pradesh Prohibition Act, 1995, does not exempt the Koya tribe from brewing and storing Mahua liquor, despite its cultural significance.
  • The Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996 empowers the gram sabha to protect tribal traditions and culture but its implementation is questionable as SEB raids continue unabated.
  • Koya villagers are often coerced into paying bribes to avoid legal charges, highlighting the tension between law enforcement and tribal rights.

Impact on Collection(Economic Consequences):

  • Many Koya households have ceased Mahua flower collection due to fear of police raids, significantly affecting their primary source of income.
  • Destruction of freshly collected flowers during raids further disincentivizes collection, reducing the supply of Mahua flowers to weekly markets (shandies) where they are exchanged for essential goods.

Guardians of Culture (Preservation of Heritage):

  • The Koya tribe, especially those not displaced by the Polavaram irrigation project, are seen as custodians of their culture. However, displacement and integration with non-tribal communities threaten their cultural identity.
  • Local leaders and activists argue for the need to empower Koya women with training in producing value-added products from Mahua flowers, rather than undermining their traditional practices and economic activities.

Legal and Policy Measures

  • Amend the Andhra Pradesh Prohibition Act, 1995: Introduce exemptions or special provisions that recognize and protect the traditional brewing and usage of Mahua liquor for cultural and religious purposes by the Koya tribe.
  • Strengthen Implementation of PESA Act: Ensure that the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996, is fully implemented. Empower Gram Sabhas to have a greater say in protecting tribal traditions, including the brewing of Mahua liquor.

Conclusion: The enforcement actions by the SEB, while aimed at regulating liquor, pose a significant threat to the Koya tribe’s cultural heritage and economic well-being. Balancing legal regulations with respect for tribal traditions and rights is crucial to preserving the Koya way of life.

Mains PYQ:

Q What are the two major legal initiatives by state since Independence, addressing discrimination against Scheduled Tribes (ST) ? (UPSC IAS/2017)

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