In recent times we have witnessed a variety of products having their origin in the Northeastern states of India get the Geographical Indication tag. For example, Manipur's Tamenglong orange and Hathei chilli, grown in the hill districts of Tamenglong and Ukhrul, respectively, and Mizoram's ginger were accorded the GI tag. However, for the first time in a very long time, the traditional and famous beverage of the Dimasa tribals of Assam and Nagaland, JUDIMA, has received the Geographical Indication ("GI") tag. This tribe mainly inhabit Dimapur in Nagaland besides the Cachar, Karbi Anglong, and Dima Hasao districts of Assam.
This is a landmark step because the Judima is the first beverage from the Northeastern States of India to receive such a tag.
What is the meaning of Geographical Indication?
A GI is a part of the broad umbrella of Intellectual Property Rights. The World Intellectual Property Organization ("WIPO") states that a "A geographical indication (GI) is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place".
According to the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, (“Act”) geographical indications concerning the goods means an indication which identifies such goods as agricultural goods, natural goods or manufactured goods as originating, or manufactured in the territory of the country, or a region or locality in the territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristics of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.
The qualities, characteristics or reputation of a product should predominantly be due to the place of origin. The relationship between the place and the product is such that any reference to a product acts as a mirror for the place and vice versa.
Functions of a GI
(i) identifies the goods to a particular place or region
(ii) indicates to the consumers, the place of origin of the goods and its quality, reputation and characteristics are essentially attributed to that place.
(iii) helps in promoting the goods of a region and provides economic support as well.
A GI tag ensures that there is minimum exploitation and is a tool to protect the cultural identity and expressions of a community about their product.
Benefits of GI
(i) Prevents unauthorized use of the registered GI by others,
(ii) Only authorized users can sue in case of infringement,
(iii) Only registered GI have the exclusive rights to access the GI products during the business,
(iv) The major benefit of a GI tag is that it allows the producers to get premium prices for their goods. This in turn alleviates the economic conditions of the community.
(v) Legal protection is afforded in the domestic as well as the international markets.
What is JUDIMA?
The Judima is a traditional rice wine brewed by the Dimasa tribe based in Assam. The term Judima comes from two words, ‘Ju’ which means wine and ‘Dima’ which refers to the Dimasa tribe. Hence, Judima is the alcoholic beverage of the Dimasa. There is folklore associated with the brewing of Judima Who does not love old folklore?
'A man belonging to the Dimasa tribe while heading to work in his paddy field carried rice wrapped in a banana leaf for his lunch. He hung the packet where his rice was kept on the trunk of a tree and got to his work. When he came to have his lunch, he found that some liquid was flowing out of the packet and when he tasted it, it was sweet. On trying to find out, how the liquid came out and what made it sweet, he realised that it must have been the tree that has turned it into sweet. Since then, the bark of that tree named Thembra (Acacia pennata) has been used in the process of making Judima. Acacia pennata or Climbing Wattle from the family Mimosaceae (Touch-me-not family) is a plant native to South and South-East Asia.'
The process of making Judima is completed in 2 stages,
(i) Preparing the rice starter cakes which is called Humao in the local language. A common yet unique feature that can be witnessed in the making of traditional alcoholic beverages in South East Asia, is that it is commenced with the use of rice cake. This cake is in turn made from the bark of the Thembra (Acaca Pennata) plant, which is dried, chopped and finally crushed into powder. The powder is then mixed with the rice flour and water to form a dough, which is then left to dry in for 3-5 days and then stored in a cool place. A special type of rice called Bora rice is used which is a glutinous type. A specific variety of Bora rice called
"Bairing” is preferred for the preparation of Judima.
The rice is boiled and spread on bamboo mats to cool off.
(ii) Preparation of the rice wine- to start the preparation of the rice wine, the starter cake is crushed and mixed with the rice and herbs. This mixture is then kept in earthen vessels. The fermentation process usually takes 3-5 days subject to the prevailing season. The liquid is then strained and then used for drinking.
A major cause for the grant of GI to Judima is the use of Thembra. Various tribes in the Northeastern states make traditional alcoholic beverages, but the use of Thembra is unique in making Judima. Another distinct feature of this beverage is that it has a sweet flavour. Apart from the alcoholic side, this drink is also said to have numerous health benefits that can treat and prevent different physical and psychological disorders. The Thembra (plant leaves and barks contain different phytochemicals and they may be potential therapeutic cures for various ailments, either alone or in combination.
The Youth Association for Development and Empowerment had applied for GI in the year 2018, the was followed up by a woman’s group in Assam name Dimajik Hasao reapplying for it again in 2019. Ahead of staking a claim for the GI tag, the Assam Agricultural University (AAU) had relied upon historical background and worked in close association with The Youth Association for Development and Empowerment, while carrying out the drink’s documentation.
Judima might simply be another alcoholic beverage for the world at large, but for the Dimasa tribe, it plays an intrinsic role in their social and cultural life. It forms an essential tradition in their lives. The GI tag granted will help in reducing the illegal sale of illicit country liquor (Sula) which people often mistake as Judima. This trade of Sula as judima, was in reality hampering the social and economic life of the Dimasa tribe and they were deprived of the sale benefits. GI can act as a medium to protect and promote the Traditional Knowledge ("TK") of a community. TK is nothing but a manifestation of the culture, lifestyle, clothing, food, cuisine etc. of a community. GI does not overtly protect the tradition and knowledge but it facilitates and encourages the trade of TK based products for the socio-economic development of the community.
India is a land of hidden treasures and is a country as old as time. With Judima making a secured entry to the national and international markets, we can expect more such treasures to be discovered and documented.
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barakbulletin, “Assam’s Rice Wine ‘Judima’ Gets GI Tag; ‘It Is a Matter of Honour but We Should Be Cautious,’ Parimal Suklabaidya” (Barak BulletinSeptember 27, 2021) <https://www.barakbulletin.com/en_US/assams-rice-wine-judima-gets-gi-tag-it-is-a-matter-of-honour-but-we-should-be-cautious-parimal-suklabaidya/>