My Story: ASHA Brings Hope Among Koyas Of East Godavari

Ever wondered what is life like in a tribal community living in remote villages surrounded by forests? And challenges posed by ‘development’ to the very existence of the communities struggling to live in harmony with nature? This interesting tale will give you some insights into their lives. Meet the man Syed Subhani who lives with the tribals of West Godavari District in Andhra Pradesh that was part of Bhadrachalam Agency in Khammam district of Telangana till recently.

Syed Subhani was born in 1958 in Chintoor, East Godavari and lives here with his family. His father was a Forest Guard in Bhadrachalam. He began working at a young age as Assistant with a Bamboo Contractor for a meagre salary of Rs.50 per month. After a couple of years, he became a Timber Maistri posted as Supervisor in Departmental Extraction of Timber. He simultaneously cleared SSC exams and learned Telugu and English Typewriting that proved to be a turning point in his career. He joined a voluntary organisation as a Typist in 1983 in Chintoor. Looking at his sincerity and efficiency at work place he was promoted as Clerk cum Typist, Accountant, Office-In-charge and Executive Secretary gradually. He moved up the career ladder as Chief Project Administrator for another NGO working in Rekapalli, Khammam District.

Owing to the experience he gained from volunteerism, his brain child ASHA “Association for Social and Humanise Action (ASHA)” was born in 1994 in Mothugudem, Khammam Dist. A Retired AGM, ECIL, Hyderabad Prof. V.V.N. Simha Rao, was the Honorary President and K. Mallesh from the Scheduled Tribe of Koya community was the President of ASHA. They have 2 to 4 volunteers in each village where they are working. Most of the General Body Members also hail from the ST community. They usually enroll beneficiaries as representatives in the administrative bodies to ensure involvement in tribal development.

Koyas reflect a rich cultural heritage of life in harmony with Nature. Koya tribe inhabit the agency areas of East and West Godavari, Khammam and Warangal districts, sparsely spread in Adilabad. They call themselves as Dorala Sattam (Lord’s Group) and Putta Dora (Original Lords) or Koitor in their own language. They are further divided into several functional, endogamous groups who are in turn divided into several exogamous Phratries. Each Phratry is again divided into several clans. The Godavari and its tributary Sabari River flowing through their habitation exercise a profound influence on Koyas’ economic, social and cultural life.


Some of them have forgotten their dialect and adopted Telugu as their language. Woman are industrious and an economic asset to the family. A woman attends to all agriculture operations except ploughing besides domestic work. They have mainly settled cultivators and grow Jowar, Finger Millet (Raagi) and Pearl Millet(Bajra). Those living in midst of forest collect Minor Forest Produce and sell in the markets.

Their main festivals are Vijji Pandum (seeds charming festival) and Kondala Kolupu (festival to appease Hill deities). The most important fair celebrated is the Sammakka Saralamma Jatra once in two years on full moon day of the Magha Masam in January or February at Medaram village in Warangal district. They perform a colorful dance called Permakok at (Bison horn dance) during festivals and marriage ceremonies. Men wear Bison Horns and Skirts for the performance beating a cylindrical Drum rhythmically. Women form a circle by holding each other’s hands over their shoulders singing and dancing.

“Born and brought up in this region I spent my childhood with tribal boys. I have seen my friends live in pathetic conditions. I was lucky to get exposed to voluntary work for the welfare of Tribal communities and this encouraged me to work on my own ideas for the development of Tribals” says Syed Subhani.

ASHA launched Non-formal schools in 5 remote villages, supported popular Social activist Medha Patkar’s fellowship program with the help of literate youth in the village. They associated themselves with OXFAM [INDIA] TRUST for Fellowship & other small Projects. Funding for its pilot project came from SEED DIVISION, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. Their projects include activities for Joint Forest Management, Initiation of Thrift Groups and women Empowerment, Eradication of Child labour in Tribal areas, Natural Resource Management, Relief & Rehabilitation, Protection and Management Plan of Eastern Ghats, Conservation of Bamboo clumps in forests, Collection and value addition to Minor Forest Produce, and Empowerment of Tribal women through income generation from untapped natural resources to name a few.

ASHA’s interventions encourage tribal’s adaptation and adoption of sustainable livelihood measures in the face of growing alienation from their natural resource base. The serious threat of displacement under the controversial Polavaram Dam project is the major challenge before them. If the displaced Koyas are neglected then very soon we will witness lakhs of Tribal‘s rendered homeless with whole Koya belt submerged under a black sheet of reservoir waters due to this Project. If tribal’s are relocated in cities it will only make them slaves with no guarantee of a fair compensation for evacuation from forests and loss of large tracts of land” says Prof. V.V.Narasimha Rao.

An example is the Gotti Koya people who are displaced by violence in the neighbouring Chhattisgarh state where they are living in pathetic conditions. Some of them sought rehabilitation in Reserve Forests of neighbouring Khammam and Warangal districts, facing regular threats from Forest Department observing them constantly with suspicion and fear of an uprising. There is no proper drinking water, roads, electricity and transportation facility for these Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) settlements. About a lakh IDPs are still living without basic amenities and identity, after a decade of violence induced eviction from their homeland. They get some support from local land-lords because they need cheap labor to work in their fields. Health conditions are very poor and they are dependent on daily wages from neighbouring villages, a collection of MFP and small cultivation in the forest. Presently ASHA gets its funding from Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Ltd [TRIFED], Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India and Keystone Foundation, Tamil Nadu.

Syed Subhani received Best Services awarded from the District Collector, Khammam, ‘Excellent Performance’ graded by Deccan Development Society in National Environment Awareness Campaign 2014. He was felicitated by A.P State Biodiversity Board and their project titled “Empowerment of Tribal women through income generation from untapped natural resources by adopting appropriate technology” funded by SEED DIVISION, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India was rated ‘Excellent” by Technical Advisory Expert Group [TAEG]. He can be reached on

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