India may lose the tag of having world’s most primitive nomadic --- Jarawa of Andaman – with the government deciding to reverse its 2004 policy of preserving their uniqueness.
Jarawa migrated from Africa centuries ago and lived in isolation in forests of Andaman till 1998 when some of them ventured out to visit nearby towns. Dependant on forest produce for food and clothes, they caught attraction of researchers and tourists. But reducing forest habitat and inbreeding have shrunk their population to below 350 from over a thousand in 1950s.
To protect primitive lifestyle of Jarawas, the tribal affairs ministry in 2004 notified a policy of not making any attempt to bring them to the mainstream of the society and have minimum government intervention.
The government’s policy did not work as Jarawas interacted with neighbouring settlements mainly due to Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) constructed about 50 years ago and got exposed to the outside world.
“They have started chewing tobacco and eating rice and sugar. They are sharp, intelligent and confident. Their articulation is clear and self assured. The effort to protect the Jarawa tribe (as enshrined in 2004 policy) from external influences is therefore an exercise in futility,” a proposal of Andaman and Nicobar Island Administration says.
The Island Development Authority chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday agreed with the proposal and asked the union territory administration to increase exposure and interaction of Jarawa with the modern world. “We will have to work in educating Jarawa tribe to integrate with the modern society,” a senior government official said.
Unlike the NGOs, who claim that Jawara still continue their primitive ways, the administration says they don’t live in “splendid isolation” anymore.
The policy has also caught the administration in a dilemma as it wants to curb freedom of Jarawas to interact with the outside world and enrich their knowledge. Therefore, now the administration has sought a change in policy to empower Jarawa to integrate with the modern world.
The core of the issue is the supreme court’s order in 2002 asking the administration to close Andaman Truck Road for vehicular traffic as its contravene the exclusive right of Jarawas in 1,200 kms of the forest area. The road was constructed in 1960s to extract timber from Jarawa reserve which the court in 2002 termed as illegal.
Although the administration has sought modification to the order, the authority on Wednesday decided to wait for the supreme court’s decision on the issue. The administration has filed a petition asking the court to modify its decision to close the road in 2002.
Even as IDA headed has taken a decision, NGO Kalpvakrish had served a legal notice to the administration and environment ministry asking why the court order has not been implemented so far.