IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 4 Issue I
This issue of IndiaWilds Newsletter tries to take a look into the issues impacting one of our tribes that had earlier shunned contact with the outside world.
A Passing Storm
What is perfectly acceptable in one society is a strict no-no in another society.
About 7-8 years back, during a trade fair at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi the show organisers were stumped when the performers of a tribal dance from the African continent were found to be topless. It was perfectly natural for the tribals who had been brought here to wear their customary dress. The organisers had to run to the nearest market to buy garments to cover the modesty of the performers.
A similar concern was raised by people when a video clip of Jarawas (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2012/jan/07/andaman-islanders-human-safari-video) - a tribe living in the ANI with only 400 odd members and susceptible to extinction – was beamed in a few TV channels. Some said that though the faces of the Jarawa women dancing in that video have been blurred digitally, their modesty is not. During a discussion, a few concerned and well-meaning friends suggested that they can donate some of their old designer clothes – which find scant use due to our ever bulging waist lines and had less use due to change in fashion trends – so that the Jarawa women can hide their modesty. It is reported that the Government stirred into action due to the righteous indignation expressed by people who matter and was forced to send the Union Home Minister to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. However, there is still no indication of the Government of taking an strong decisions to resolve the root cause. With the only tangible action seen in form of arrests of people involved in helping undertake the journey for producing the video, the Government appears to be more keen to find out the source of the Jarawa video and punish the individuals rather than solve the root cause of the problem. If a CNN-IBN news report is to be believed, the police officer investigating this issue was rewarded with a President’s Medal. Whether the medal was triggered by his present role in investigating the Jarawa case or purely based on his past service record is not known. http://ibnlive.in.com/generalnewsfeed/news/cop-who-probed-jarawa-dancing-case-gets-prez-police-medal/956276.html
The Jarawas – a tribe of hunter gatherers have lived in the Andamans with only sporadic contacts with other andamanese groups. Till recently they had chosen to remain out of contact with other settlers and were reported to be hostile to the few efforts to contact them. In the 1970’s the Indian administration started building a road through the Jarawa reserve. This brought more people in contact with the Jarawas. The sporadic efforts to make contacts with the Jarawas, which started during the British rule, not only continued after independence, but also got converted into a systematic process of offering inducements to win them over. Over a period of time, the Jarawas have been made dependent on the inducements and it has come to such a sorry state that they are made to dance to our popular songs.
A once independent and self-sufficient tribe is now reduced to begging and subjected to sexual exploitation.
Or shall we take offence at all?
Some may say that the Jarawas are performing artists, after all our film stars and starlets are now dancing/performing in many marriage and other parties and subjected to lewd comments like the ones in the Jarawa video. At the beginning of the previous century, during the silent talkie era, the female roles were performed by males as it was not seen as a right thing to do. Over a period of time, due to changing social mores, people consider the film stars and item girls as role models and deified. We have come a long way!
So if our convoys continue to run through the Andaman Trunk Road and these legal or illegal contacts continue, and if the various interested parties have their way, the Jarawas will be “integrated” into the mainstream and may soon participate or form their own dance troupes and be seen in various trade shows and other parties. It goes without saying that they will be fully clad to hide their modesty.
Is this what we want?
Assimilating Jarawas into Mainstream Society:
The Jarawas had stayed in their forest abode for thousands of years without any contact with the outside world. Many politicians, real estate mafia, tour agents etc consider them to be relics of the past to be obliterated (read assimilated into mainstream), so that they will have their own way in capturing (read developing) these areas.
To a group of concerned individuals including a few anthropologists who are rooting for assimilation of the Jarawas, I asked why we talk of assimilating them with the mainstream society. I was told that they can then demand reservations in jobs. I was stunned into silence for a moment.
I asked “You destroy their homeland, their culture, their way of life and make them dependent on us and then feel that by allocating a portion of jobs under the ST quota, their problems will be solved?” In the first place, we created a problem by damaging their habitat; by poaching in their forests and reducing the food available to them. Then we created this contact program and made them dependent on our food, addicted them to liquor and other vices, dangled shiny pieces of jewelry, watches and other such items and enticed them the way we do to kids and made some of them believe that our life style is better etc. And now we talk of assimilating them into our society!
Do we have dearth of coolies that we still want to break the backbone of a self-sufficient tribe living in isolation and bring them to our cities?
Jarawas Vulnerable to Extinction:
The Jarawas with an estimated population of around 400 odd individuals are susceptible to any diseases that can be transmitted from us, for which they have no immune system. Thousands of years of remaining out of contact with the outside world makes them vulnerable as their immune system has not evolved. Expecting that to evolve in a few years is like making the evolutionary process move at the speed of light – a pipe dream. Our scientists are of the opinion that any species that number less than 500 are prone to extinction. One single outbreak of a disease can do that. It is said that when the British first arrived in 1789, due to outbreak of some disease there was a marked reduction in the Jarawa population (Development and Ethnocide: Colonial Practices in the Andaman Islands: Sita Venkateshwar). So it is a moot point whether we assimilate them into the mainstream or not, just continuing with the contact programs have the potential to spread disease resulting in the Jarawas getting wiped away. And in case we assimilate them into the mainstream, they will similarly get wiped away, without perhaps anyone even noticing their extinction.
Apology for Past Sins:
In 2008, after several decades the Australian Government realized their sin of forcibly taking away kids of aborigines to assimilate them into the mainstream and their Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had apologized. “To the mothers and fathers, to the brothers and sisters we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture we say sorry.” India today is again in the path of creating such a massive blunder. As a nation, do we have the moral right to destroy the homeland, the culture, and the way of life and the dignity of the Jarawas?
Preserving the unique culture of Jarawas:
The Jarawas have their own culture. Due to very infrequent contact with outsiders and other groups, they may be among the handful of tribes in their world who have had a culture that is not influenced by our materialistic world. Due to the very small population of the Jarawas, assimilation into our society will lead to their quickly their culture getting obliterated. After the reorganization of Indian States along linguistic lines, many people in the border areas of various states were forced to speak, read and write in other languages. I have personally seen many examples of such people forgetting their own mother tongue. If this can happen to non-tribals, how do we expect this to not happen to the Jarawas who still are mainly hunter-gatherers? Poor indeed are the people who have lost their language.
Living with Dignity:
The Tribal Affairs Minister Shri V Kishore Chandra Deo had said that “It will be unfair to leave the Jarawas in Beastly condition”. The Jarawas don’t need our sympathy as poor people. Poverty is not just about lack of material goods. They have free unpolluted air to breathe in, still vast stretches where the water is good, despite poaching they still have good forests that provide them their needs. They have all that is necessary for their survival as independent and self-sufficient community. They neither need our doles, nor our job reservations or our sympathy. Let’s allow them to live in dignity and in peace.
It is time; we respect the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s ruling and stop plying vehicles in the Andaman Trunk Road. At a time when greed and short-sightedness cloud our vision, will the Government wake up and respect the Supreme Court ruling of closing the Andaman Trunk Road? Or are we OK for a future Prime Minister of India to apologise to the Jarawas like the Australian PM did?
With many of the major news channels moving from the initial Jarawa video and related stories is the Jarawa issue another Passing Storm?
Other Conservation Issues:
Another Elephant run over by train:
Elephants continue to be killed by our trains. There seems to be no respite for our elephants:
Elephant Run over by Bus in Satyamangalam:
KSRTC drivers have earned another dubious distinction. In the past, KSRTC after a sloth bear was killed by one of its buses had given an explanation that it was the first incident and hence should be ignored. It is to be seen what explanation they are going to give for killing an elephant. http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=8569
Elephant deaths in Erode district:
When twenty three elephants get killed in a single district it is a matter of grave concern. For further details: http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=8274
Photographer killed while clicking Elephant:
Elephant is an often misunderstood and a much maligned creature despite we considering it as the vehicle of Goddesses Laxmi and despite Lord Ganesha having an elephant head. Elephants can run much faster than humans. For further details on this:
Tiger poachers reach Nallamala:
Images shared by our members between Dec. 10th 2011 and Jan 9th 2012 that depict interesting behavior, habitat, rare species or just plain beautiful.
Water Redstart in flight by Kaling Dai
Nailed in mid-air…lesser pied kingfisher by Dr. Jitendra Katre
White-bellied Sea Eagle pair by Abhishek Jamalabad
Bronze Winged Jacana by Arijit Banerjee
Asiatic Wild Ass, LRK by Dipankar Mazumdar
Tiger at Bandipur by Praveen Siddannavar
Bharatpur bird santuary during morning by Ashok Sorout
Lined Writhing Skink at Karnala by Abhishek Jamalabad
Python Yawn – Bharatpur by Sabyasachi Patra
I look forward to your support and inputs in preserving the last tracts of wilderness and wildlife left in this beautiful country. For other interesting articles and photographs please check : http://www.indiawilds.com/forums
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