Andaman’s Jarawa Tribes Treated as ‘Circus Ponies’ in Police Presence; Threat From Illegal Tourism Palpable

on January 10 2012 5:25 AM
Andaman’s Jarawa Tribes
There are roughly 400 Jarawa tribespeople left on the Andaman Islands, and tribal rights group Survival International believes unwanted contact could lead to their disappearance. ©Salomé/Survival International

A recent incident of police involvement in illegal “human safaris” being carried out by local tour operators in the Jarawa reserve, the habitat of the primitive tribe in India’s south Andaman island, has caused much uproar among tribal rights groups.

A video released by British newspaper “The Observer” reportedly shows a policeman accepting $300 as bribe from tourists to take them into the Jarawa reserve and ordering Jarawa women to dance for them.

According to Survival International, an organization working for tribal people’s rights worldwide, the recent revelation about the policeman’s act is similar to colonialism of the past.

“The Jarawa are not circus ponies bound to dance at anyone’s bidding,” Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said on Monday.

The organization claims to have first exposed illegal tourism happening in the Jarawa reserve in 2010, upon which a few tour operators stopped promoting Jarawa tourism.

However, the “human safaris” on the Andaman Trunk road that runs through the reserve is taking a toll on the tribals, who have little immunity to common diseases and can risk their lives if they come in contact with outsiders.

The Jarawa people are believed to have survived without contact with the outside world for about 55,000 years until 1998, when some of them started appearing on the Andaman Trunk road.

“The road runs right through their forest home, and they risk decimation by disease.”

Despite a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court in 2002 that ordered the highway to be closed down, the Andaman Trunk is still very active and threatens the existence of the Jarawa tribe.

In 2005, DNA evidence suggested that the Jarawa were direct descendents of man's earliest ancestors who migrated from Africa 65,000 to 70,000 years ago, only to be stranded on the islands by rising seawater. They are one of the four ancient Negroid tribes barely surviving on the Andaman, scientists said.

Today, the Jarawa are estimated to be just about 320 in number and illegal tourism through the Andaman Trunk road, which attracts poachers, tourists and trespassers luring these indigenous people with food items, remains a serious threat to their existence.

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