India wants to steal tribals children-Asia Sentinel

July 6, 2010

The Threat to the Andamans’ Jawara Tribe

An Indian parliamentarian wants to “civilize” people who so far aren’t interested

Asia Sentinel: July 5, 2010

Photos: www/Jarawas_page.html

[Thierry Falise]

Is the life of a primitive child on an isolated island in the Andaman Sea, in the words of the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes, likely to be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short? Or is it idyllic and peaceful?

Bishnu Pada Ray, an Indian member of parliament representing the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, is proposing that children aged six to 12 of the Jawara tribe, perhaps some of the most isolated people on the planet, be taken away from their parents to be “kept in a normal school atmosphere, trained in personal hygiene, use of clothing and basic reading and writing skills” for six months, then returned to the tribe to civilize the rest of them.

That has stirred outrage among representatives of indigenous peoples across the world, who say it “echoes the much-criticized policy of the ‘Stolen Generation’ in Australia, and similar policies in North America.” Michael Cachagee, executive director of the National Residential School Survivors’ Society in Canada, said in a press release by Survival International that his organization “cannot comprehend or fathom that any nation in today’s world would consider interning any of their citizens, especially children, in a ‘residential school’, given the horrific history associated with these types of schools in Canada and other parts of the world.’

[Thierry Falise]

The islands are a series of specks with the Andaman Sea on one side and the Bay of Bengal on the other. Only 38 of the 550-odd islands are inhabited. They are thought to have been populated by some of the first human migrations out of Africa. The Jarawa were totally isolated until about 1998, when some tribespeople began to emerge from the forest to visit towns and settlements created by several hundred thousand ethnic Indians, who now vastly outnumber the tribes, encroaching on their land. The Jawara have resisted civilization, famously shooting at helicopters with bows and arrows during the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Although nearly 6,000 people died in the tsunami, most of the aboriginals survived because oral traditions passed down from generations ago warned them to run for high ground from large waves that follow large earthquakes.

The Indian government adopted a policy of isolation for the aboriginals, requiring permits to contact them. But what Ray called “friendly interaction” is resulting in “inculcation of undesirable knowledge and habits as well as injection of race impurity.” Therefore, Ray said, the isolation policy has failed and “if the  current policy and treatment continues, it will not take much time for the total annihilation of the Jarawa entity.”

A road was built in the 1970s by the Indian government through the primary area the Jarawa inhabit, bringing settlers, poachers and loggers as well as diseases to which they have no immunity. They have become kind of inhabitants of a zoo, with tour operators driving through the reserve every day in the hope of spotting members of the tribe, according to Survival International, which is leading a campaign to keep the tribe in isolation.

[Thierry Falise]

On the other side is Ray, who said in a press statement that the Jawara are “dark skinned, short structured men and women akin to their African cousins. They live in the forests of the South and Middle Andaman islands in mysterious isolation, stuck in time somewhere in between the stone and iron age.”

He proposes “quick and drastic steps…to bring the Jarawa up to the basic mainstream characteristics,” pointing to children of two tribes in the Indian state of Jharkhand who were removed from the tribes and “exposed to eating habits of simple mainstream people and modern amenities such as television and motor vehicles.”

After six months, Ray said, the children were returned to their tribes. Within a month, they were observed to have lost some of their clothing and mainstream habits, but the tribes themselves had acquired some characteristics such as personal hygiene and use of clothes. The children were removed again and schooled over a longer period.

“Over time, trainers were able to infiltrate into the main pockets of tribes and inculcate skills of personal hygiene, wearing of clothes and their maintenance, partaking of cooked food and basic agricultural and horticultural activities. The final result was training the entire population into a village identical with any other (similar) village in Jharkhand.”

Ray argues that the population must be given some advantages to ensure their survival against the adverse effects of unregulated contacts with the mainstream.

Unfortunately, at the same time the MP is advocating that restrictions on development in the Jarawa reserve be lifted, which would bring considerably more contact to a people who, according to Survival International, could survive on their own if contact were to be stopped. He is asking that a national highway and railway be built, passing through two Jawara tribal reserves.

‘These scandalous proposals are contemptuous both of indigenous peoples’ rights and the UN’s standards for their protection,” said Stephen Cory, the director of Survival International. “Attempts to force the Jarawa to abandon their way of life will simply destroy them.’

“With all sympathies for the Jarawa, one finds it not very logical to halt development of facilities and amenities for 400,000 people to provide resource domain to merely 300 individuals in a primitive stage of development. Even otherwise, the current policy of isolating Jarawa adopted by the A&N Administration does not seem to be doing any benefit to the Jarawas,” Ray said. “It is high time that realization dawns on the policy makers to adopt the correct policy for the survival of Jarawa tribals and not go for the fashionable option.”

That is nonsense, Survival International said in a 59-page report on indigenous people around there world titled “Progress Can Kill.” After the government resettled another tribe, the Onge of Little Andaman Island in 1976, “the Onge have become dependent on nutritionally poor government rations, with a drastic impact on child health. Between 1978 and 1985, the infant mortality rate doubled, with the most common cause of child deaths being from diarrhea, dysentery and malnutrition. The Onge population fell from 670 in 1900, to 169 in 1961, to 76 in 1991. ‘This “resettlement” has set in motion the biological, social and cultural death of the Onge.

By contrast, the report said, the Jarawa have maintained their independence and have suffered less from disease and loss of land. “They are mostly still nomadic and self sufficient, but they are at increasing risk from poachers and settlers.”


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