Millennium Post

Let them alone

An effort to connect the Jarawa, primitive tribes of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, to the mainstream has become a concern for activists all over the world. They have not only threatened to challenge the decision through legal procedure but also claimed that the initiative could be disastrous for the tribe who prefers to stay in their own territory.
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In May 2002, unfortunately, despite Supreme Court’s ‘interim order’ to ban ‘human safaris’ along the illegal Andaman Trunk Road-ATR (which passes through the protected Jarawa zone) nothing much has been done in this regard. The court had also ordered to remove all settlers from Jarawa land, and banned logging. It had also ordered to ensure that no person other than an indigenous tribal should reside or enter the reserve. However, the local people as well as tourists are still using the road and are often seen exploiting the tribe by offering food and taking their photographs in return. In some cases it was learnt that they were exploited in the name of liquor by tourists to get sea foods like crabs, lobsters, sea cucumbers and shells.

Experts feel that with repeated exploitation, many of them suffered from diseases like measles, asthma and tumours. What aggravated the situation was the increasing number of rape cases among Jarawa women in the recent past. In the midst of many challenges faced by the Jarawas — initiative to connect them to the mainstream will have an adverse effect on the primitive tribes in terms of their population. MP of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Bishnu Pada Ray said, ‘Whatever may be the reason, the Jarawas have now, more or less, adopted the lifestyle of people living in towns.’

When asked about his idea of bringing them to the mainstream, he said, ‘I never said I will bring them to the mainstream. My statement was misquoted. I said whatever decision will be taken, it will be taken after taking the Jarawas into consideration.’

There was a long pending demand for an alternate route to Rangat, 163 kilometers from Port Blair and famous for turtle nesting, instead of the existing ATR but that too fell on deaf ears. ‘Forcing tribal people into the mainstream has disastrous consequences, as rates of disease, depression, addiction and suicide will soar,’ Kameel Joseph, a social welfare activist in Port Blair said.

As per the ministry of tribal circular, no attempts should be made to bring the Jarawas to the mainstream against their conscious will. ‘It is unfortunate that attempts are being made to bring them to mainstream. The call has to come from the Jarawas on what they want and what problems they face. We are no one to dictate terms to them. They are the actual residents of this island and not us,’ said Kameel.

Known for their great hunting skills and best predictors of natural disasters, this beautiful tribe no longer remains the same, which they used to be more than 100 years back. They have been exploited in such a way that most of them are now addicted to drugs and liquor. The local poachers and tourists misused them in exchange of cold cream, paan, gutka, defunct mobile phones, remote controlled toys etc.

Staying inside dense jungles of the archipelago, the Jarawas, who once loved their privacy, are now listening to music, having soft drinks and are comfortable with the locals, which is alarming.
There is an urgent need to protect their tradition. ‘It is true that we have done an irreparable damage to them and now, we are encouraging another controversy by bringing them to the mainstream. It’s time for the new government to give what they deserve,’ Sanjay Mondal, an activist on tribal welfare in Port Blair said.

Despite having stringent rules, there are people living close to the Jarawa reserve, some for even more than 50 years. But nothing has been done to remove them from the protected area.

Among these settlers, some became hooch den owners who collected one kilogram of pure honey by giving half a bottle of liquor to the Jarawas. Over the years, the tribe that used to consume natural liquor from the extracts of local herbs and fruits are now habituated to foreign brands because of easy availability — causing an adverse affect on their health.

For many years, the local mafia had been visiting their territory and laying ‘tobacco traps’ to befriend them, in order to start their timber-based industries. In the process, they became addicted to tobacco, which facilitated the smuggling of timber for the mafia from their territory. And now, due to massive illegal deforestation, the Jarawas have been forced to adjust themselves only in the 20 percent of the total Middle Andaman Island.

‘Several illegal hooch dens mushroomed in the Island and the local police are sleeping. There is an urgent need to shift all settlers from the Island because the civilized people or the settlers are providing nothing but bad habits to the Jarawas,’ a senior official of Tribal Welfare Department said. 

Every year approximately Rs 1 lakh is allocated (per head) for the primitive tribe by the Central government. But nothing much has been done for the betterment of these tribes and there should be an inquiry as to where the funds meant for the tribe are going.

Monish Banerjee, a Kolkata based psychologist who has done research on tribal’s behavioral pattern, said, ‘Jarawas are unique in their nature. In fact almost all the Stone-Age tribes are curious in nature and they get attracted to new things, which they have never seen before. This is the only reason, while being curious in nature they came easily in contact with the civilized people.’

Survival International’s, a UK based Tribal Welfare Organization, director Stephen Corry expressed his concern over the issue. He said, ‘The local MP of Port Blair’s controversial proposal shows contempt for the Jarawa’s survival. The attempt to integrate will destroy them. Such approach has always proved disastrous not in Port Blair alone but in other parts of the world too.’ 

The protest within the country and outside has also drawn the attention of President Pranab Mukherjee, who during his recent visit to Andaman, made a passionate plea against forced assimilation into mainstream of marginal and highly fragile tribal communities. Any assimilation should come from within, not imposed from outside,’ he said.

Now, with the new government in Delhi, people associated with the tribal welfare are hopeful that some stern measures will be taken to protect the sanctity of this tribe. 

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