21September2018

Andaman Chronicle

The Daily Diary of the Islands

Are we waiting for the Jarawas to re-invent the wheel before they could take the path of modernity?

 The Andaman & Nicobar Islands which made headlines after the 2004 Great Sumatra Andaman Earthquake, is once again making headlines in the national as well an international media following release of a video clip featuring Andaman’s Jarawa tribe by a British media. Immediately other NGO’s, media houses, activists and their likes switched to campaign mode releasing reports and updates almost on a day-to-day basis, many of which are drifted miles away from truth. 

 

What it emerges out of the campaign launched by some NGO’s at the international level supported by national as well as few local counterparts and activists is in-reality an attempt to project the Great Andaman Trunk Road (referred as ATR) as the culprit and generate an anti-island rhetoric which eventually would ensure their survival in the run for bread and butter. Sadly some of our intellectuals, NGO’s and activists having sound knowledge and fair understanding of island conditions too had gone blind to the fact that Jawaras had been co-existing with settlers peacefully for the last more than six decades and that ATR is not used by tourists alone but by islanders since ship route is highly uncertain and marred by inclement weather conditions.

The whole world is made to believe as if the ATR is exclusively used by tourists for human safari! Whereas the fact is the 343 KM ATR (NH # 223) constructed in 1970’s, running from Port Blair to Diglipur connects four main inhabited islands namely South Andaman, Baratang, Middle Andaman and North Andaman facilitating movement of peoples, health care facilities, essential commodities, goods and services round the year. On an average the daily traffic on ATR comprise of around 2200 peoples (either way) and include around 22 public transport bus, 100-120 four wheelers and 50 goods vehicle. Of this traffic across ATR, 500-600 are tourist rest of the majority is islanders travelling to or returning from Port Blair; not for sight seeing but to meet one or the other survival needs.

Another startling fact is Jarawa reserve along the ATR starts from Jirkatang in South Andaman and extends upto Parlobjig Camp No 15 in N&M Andaman, covering a distance of about 130 Km. But Jarawas are seen only at few points along the first 50 Km stretch of the ATR between Jirkatang and Middle Strait. Why is it so? Why is it that Jarawas do not show up in other parts of the ATR beyond Baratang? The main reason cited is tourists frequent this stretch of ATR. Atleast the major emphasis of the campaign is revolving around this hypothesis. This however is not true.

Incidentally, Jarawas come out of the jungles in other parts of the islands also which are neither frequented by tourists nor the ATR passes through those places. Tirur and Tusnabad are such place where Jarawas are increasingly venturing out of the jungles and roam around in the nearby revenue village. Ironically the self proclaimed guardians of the tribes, the select group of NGO’s and activists who have been vociferous in making a case against ATR never bother to report these sightings of Jarawas inside revenue villages of rural South Andaman. Why this discrimination?

Perhaps the answer is simple - None of the self proclaimed guardians of the tribes, the select group of NGO’s or the activists and pressure group is aiming at reaching the root cause of the issue, but rake up the issue for vested gains. Obviously they seem to be guided by the survival needs of the-self and the organization they subscribe to. They want to hog the limelight hence report only those aspect of the issue which help them generate a prejudiced opinion on the issue and catch media attention at the national and international level.

Unfortunately the efforts made by the island administration to strike a balance between the welfare of the tribes and development of the logistically constrained far flung islands seems to hurt the sinister designs of those who have been out there on a vilification campaign against the island administration in particular and the entire country in general, planting miscommunication in the media from time to time. This is highly condemnable and must stop immediately.

Let me quote the “Battle of Aberdeen” which perhaps would help us understand the role of external forces vis-à-vis welfare of the island tribes. The Annals speaks that on May 17, 1859 the tribals attacked the (pre-alerted) British at Aberdeen. The tribal bows and arrows were hardly a match for the fire power of the forewarned British garrisons. The Andamanese were slaughtered in thousands and their attack repulsed. The loss of lives was so huge that a considerable part of the Andamanese race was wiped out in one single day in the Battle of Aberdeen. The Battle of Aberdeen resulted in consolidation of colonial power in the archipelago forcing the tribals to retreat themselves into the jungles, never to be seen again.

It is for this piece of history, atleast I am in no mood to subscribe to the sentiments expressed by the descendants of the British in the guise of NGO’s and rights activists, in matters relating to welfare of our island tribes. The general islander and the island administration are seized of the issue and are committed towards welfare of the tribes. This is evident from the fact that the Jarawa tribes who were 240 in 2001, grew to 376 in 2011. Is it not encouraging that Jarawas registered a growth rate of about 56% whereas the non-tribal islanders could manage 6% growth during the same decade (2001-2011). This has been possible largely because of various welfare measures and safeguards put in place by the island administration.

However, few sporadic contacts do take place with the Jarawas along the ATR and elsewhere, which are nothing but criminal trespass; violation of law. No one including the island administration approves such unsolicited contacts. Therefore such offenders should be dealt with appropriate provisions available under the law.

It would be pertinent to mention the ATR during its four decades of existence, apart from replacing Ship as the life-line of North and Middle Andamans, served as a window for the tribes through which they glance the world outside the jungles. A complete generation of Jarawas has grown up with ATR in their life during this time. It is this generation which unknowingly had set their foot on the path which homo sapiens took after originating from Africa some 200,000 years ago. It took homo sapiens 50,000 years to achieve the full behavioural modernity in the absence of any trail to follow. But for the Jarawa tribe the path to modernity (as used in anthropology) should be far short with settlers in and around them. At this juncture, the tribes need to be empowered with right kind of knowledge so that their further course of journey could be smooth and take place at a pace conducive to their growth and well being.

The fear of cultural shock, contacting life threatening diseases and a range of unforeseen fears are mere perceptions, if not exaggeration because Jarawas are no more isolated in strict sense. For the last more than five decades, they have been exposed to the way of life outside their forests, and their population has registered a healthy growth. If we are not able to complement the Jarawas in their march towards modernity (as used in anthropology), do we have the right to create roadblocks in their path? My answer is no (in bold and capital letters).

Debkumar Bhadra, Shore Point, Bambooflat, S Andaman - 744107