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Jarawa Tribe of Andamans

The Andaman & Nicobar Islands are not only home to rare flora and fauna but are also an exotic habitat of the Jarawas – one of the worlds’ most endangered tribes.  Till a decade ago the name ‘Jarawa’ evoked only fear. The bow and arrow-wielding tribal have always been hostile to ‘outsiders’.  The Jarawa are a hunter-gatherer tribe that has lived in the dense forests of the Islands, completely cut off from the outside world, for many centuries.  But things started changing, when they started interaction with the ‘outsiders’, in 1997.

Jarawa Tribe of Andaman

Isolation or Inclusion in Mainstream

Isolation or inclusion of the Jarawa tribe in mainstream has become a big challenge to the Indian government, since they are still used to a primitive way of living.  On the one hand, it would be unfair to leave them in a beastly condition forever, while on the other, the process of integration/inclusion with modern way of living cannot be done in haste. According to the Tribal Affairs Minister, Mr. V Kishore Chandra Deo, “the tribe needs to enjoy the benefits of development but a discussion is needed with several tribal groups of the Andaman and Nicobar, including Jarawas,  to arrive at a conclusion to bring them into the mainstream.”

According to some critics, the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR), is been one of the main reasons for these changes in the Jarawa lifestyle. It is a two-lane highway that connects parts of Middle and South Andaman and passes through the heart of Jarawa territory.  Though Indian government has always protected the Jarawas from outside interaction, the Trunk Road has thrown open a totally new world to them.  This has led to frequent contacts with outsiders, often with the risk of fatal diseases and exploitation.

In 2012, India was appalled when The Observer exposed the human safaris by publishing video footage of girls from the Jarawa tribe being coerced into dancing semi-naked in return for food in front of tourists. Two videos obtained by The Observer also showed proof of official involvement in the "Human Safaris".  The safaris attracted severe criticism from Human Right supporters and India was condemned around the world.

Tribes of Andamans

The Indian government promised to take quick action.  The Supreme Court banned the Safaris, only to revise the decision after getting assurance from local administration that the Jarawa would be protected from such exploitations. The Supreme Court Order had shut The Andaman Trunk Road in 2002, where it runs through the forests of the Jarawa Tribal Reserve. However, till date, hundreds of vehicles still pour through the jungle every day, packed with tourists, whose main purpose is to see and try to photograph members of the tribe.

The dramatic end of the isolation period

In 1997, the hostility of the tribe against the outsiders came to an end, when the tribe members went out to discover the other parts of the island, and started to mingle with the outsiders. They came out from their jungles and went through the villages where nudity is not permissible and they took whatever amused them. The concept of money was totally new to them and as a token of free expression and acceptance the outsiders welcomed them with small gifts. Surely, this sudden change in their behavior came as a shock for the authorities.

As per the people, this drastic change is because of a Jarawa boy called Enmey, who once got his leg fractured and was picked up by the people, who then sent him to a hospital for treatment. Once he recovered, he was sent back to his home. The friendliness and the warmth that he received by the people, might be the driving force for the change in their behaviour. 

Survival Threat to Jarawa Tribe

Anthropologists believe that the Jarawa are the first successful human migrants outside of Africa.  Jarawa means "stranger" in the language of the Great Andamanese. Otherwise,Ya-eng-nga, is their self kept name, meaning "human being’. 

Several hundred thousand Indian settlers now live on the islands, vastly outnumbering the tribes.  The Influences of missionaries, poachers, governments and powerful neighbors are posing a serious threat to their very survival;

  • Encroachment into their region is threatening their very existence. Poachers are said to steal their game as well.
  • Interaction to the outsiders expose them to diseases like measles, pneumonia, acute respiratory tract infection and skin infections, for which they seem to have no immunity.
  • Kidnapping and sexual exploitation of the Jarawa women have also been reported since the construction of Andaman Trunk Road, that runs through their territory.
  • Lapses in policing by authorities and lack of empathy from tour operators have reduced them as mere objects for entertainment to tourists.
  • In 2004 the authorities announced a radical new policy, stating that the Jarawa would be allowed to choose their own future, for which they are not yet ready.

Jarawa Tribe

UNESCO declares Nicobar Islands as one of the ‘World Biosphere Reserve’

The UNESCO recognized the need to preserve the natural assets of Islands and to protect the tribe by putting a strict vigil on exploitation of the endangered tribal race  - Jarawa, which has only recently ventured out of their shell, to take the first tentative steps towards a relationship with the outside world.  In May 30, 2013, the UNESCO designated the Nicobar Islands as a World Biosphere Reserve under its “Man and the Biosphere” Program. 

This island with an area of 103,870 hectares, is covered with tropical evergreen forests. Home to 200 rare species of plants and herbs and exotic marine life  in the coastal zone. The 6,381 inhabitants derive a wide variety of biological resources from their environment such as medicinal plants and other non-timber forest products.

The Government protection to the reclusive primitive tribe

The Jarawa is one of the four tribal groups on the Nicobar Islands. The Jarawa tribe has lived a secluded life for centuries and has been extremely hostile to all outsiders in order to protect their privacy.  As a result Nicobar Island was considered as ‘Jarawa-infested’ area which prevented outsiders to venture in that area. As a result its valuable natural resources remained locked from productive use.

In the post-independence period, South and Middle Andaman were declared protected as a ‘Jarawa Tribal Reserve’ under the provisions of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation (ANPATR) -1956.  This offered a legal protection to the Jarawa and the forests that they have inhabited for thousands of years. The tribal, living in a jungle reserve are simple people - trusting, innocent and hugely vulnerable to exploitation.  The Government wanted to introduce them to new world gradually in a phased manner.

Jarawa Tribe of Andamans

Internal Threats and Abuse

International attention has previously focused on the danger to the tribe from the daily human safaris that take tourists through the Jarawa's Reserve.   Soon they started facing new dangers of exploitation, sexual abuse, alcohol and drugs - by other internal intruders in its own homeland. 

The Human Rights groups raised their voices against these new incursions by other islanders and poachers. In a rare interview, in the Andaman Chronicle, a tribal had come forward to protest about the sexual abuse of their young women by other Andaman islanders and poachers, who have started entering the forest to harass the tribe. He alleged that the outsiders had introduced alcohol, tobacco and drugs into the Reserve.

Poachers, many from Burma, are known to have been regular visitors to the Jarawa's territory. Anthropologists and the human rights groups are concerned about the effect on the tribe of contact with outsiders. Most are already struggling to come to grips with the diseases of the outside world, which have beset them since they started to make forays out of the jungle. Disease and the effects of the introduction of alcohol and drugs have been cited as reasons for assisting the tribe in perpetuating its isolation until members are ready for greater contact. 

These revelations point at the administration's failure to adequately protect the island's most vulnerable citizens.

The lost tribe – Bo

In the year 2000, the last member of the Bo tribe of the Andaman Islands died. The Bo were one of the 10 Great Andamanese tribes, and were devastated by diseases brought in by the British when they Colonized the islands in the 19th century. Many members of Bo tribe contracted syphilis after being sexually exploited by the colonizers. The devastating effect can be seen in their drastic reduction in number, from 5,000 (when the British first arrived) to mere 50 (when they left).

The government must ensure that history does not repeat itself.

However, even today, Andaman Trunk Road is used by the tourists, which runs through the reserve. Signs at the entrance flash warning signals; "No pictures. No food. No contact" and "Do not disturb the members of the tribe" But when the gates open the cameras start clicking while food is thrown at them.

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