Seethakka’s allegations regarding the hijacking of Adivasi culture and conspiracy to keep her away from the Jatara draws significance in the backdrop of the differences between Adivasis and Lambadas.

Minister Sathyavathi Rathod and Mulugu MLA Seethakka taking part in a ritual in December 2021 at MedaramImage courtesy: District Collector Mulugu/ Facebook
news Controversy Sunday, February 13, 2022 - 19:59

The four-day indigenous tribal fest ‘Sammakka Saralamma Jatara’ aka ‘Medaram Jatara’ which is set to begin on February 16 has become a point of controversy between Adivasi MLA Seethakka (Danasari Anasuya) and Telangana Tribal Welfare Minister Satyavathi Rathod. Seethakka, the Mulugu Congress MLA, has alleged that the Minister was not following protocol and trying to keep her (Seethakka) away from the Jatara arrangements.

Earlier this week, speaking to a Telugu TV channel Seethakka said that heavy construction work is visible in the name of permanent structures at the Jatara. She stated that the government should provide amenities to the 3 crore people who come for the festival as it’s not possible to provide accommodation to all the people. She said arrangements for the Jatara should not take place like Bhadrachalam Sri Rama temple or Vemulawada Sri Rajeshwara temple or like Tirupati Venkateswara Swamy temple.

Seethakka felt that the rituals in the Jatara, which are native to the Adivasi culture, are being compromised, while stating that the customs and traditions should not be wiped out as it would threaten the existence of the Adivasis. She said, “I have urged our Adivasi pujaris and Adivasi associations that the Jatara should be done as per the goddesses’ wishes. They (Sammakka-Saralamma) should be commemorated as per their history.”

The state Tribal Welfare Department prepared a special invitation for national and state-level guests, which includes a brochure that contains a schedule of the events to be held between February 16 and 19. Besides, a coffee table book titled ‘The Legend of Medaram’ is another highlight of the gift box.

Stating that she was not informed about the brochure launch and that Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) has been invited for the event, Seethakka said that Adivasi culture was being hijacked. “Even when I was in the Telugu Desam Party, there was a culture of informing when there was a meeting about the Jatara, poster launch or for inviting VIPs, but now what is this hijack? Why this conspiracy to avoid us?”

Pointing at Minister Satyavathi, Seethakka asked, “We are children of this region, we worship the goddesses as the home gods from our ancestors in events starting from child tonsure. Why this politics, why this political dominance? We aren’t talking against the CM, we thanked him in the Assembly for making Mulugu a district, we will definitely invite if good is done.”

She also asked Adivasi pujaris to cooperate to protect the exclusivity of the system and not to work for the approval of individuals.

The largest tribal festival in Asia, Medaram jatara is native to the Koya tribe, and commemorates the fight of a mother and daughter – Sammakka and Sarakka – against the Kakatiya dynasty, as per folk legend.

Seethakka’s comments draw significance in the backdrop of the existing differences between Adivasi communities and Lambadas in Telangana over the Schedule Tribe (ST) status of the latter. For the past few years Adivasi communities have been demanding the exclusion of Lambadas from the ST list alleging that they are cornering their opportunities in jobs and education.

However, Minister Satyavathi refuted the allegations and said that Seethakka was playing politics over organising the Jatara. “Seethakka is an Adivasi, we respect her, we have decided to take her thoughts and experiences for the jatara going forward.”

She added, “We both are Adivasis, we have a bond. Though I’m senior to her in politics, we both became MLAs at the same time. Though we belong to different parties, we work together for development and for organising the Jatara.”

Read: Is Asia’s largest tribal festival, the Medaram Jatara, at risk of cultural appropriation?

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