ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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'Human Safari' in the Andamans

Will the near-extinct Jarawa tribe survive the greed and insensitivity of the "mainstream"?

Recent reports about Jarawa tribals in the Andamans being exposed to a “human safari” by tour operators have drawn attention to the urgent issue of what serves the best interests of this group that has survived without contact with the “modern” world. The Jarawas live in a 1,021 sq km reserve on the island of South Andamans in the Bay of Bengal. Numbering barely 403 people now, it was only in 1998 that they first made contact with “outsiders” though their ancestors are said to have been part of the very first human migration out of Africa. Recently, the websites of the London-based The Guardian/Observer carried a report about tour operators who arrange the safaris for a tidy sum (part of which goes to the local police) during which tourists can take photographs, shoot videos and “throw” bananas and biscuits to the Jarawa, all of which is prohibited and expressly listed at the gate of the reserve. A video of five semi-naked Jarawa women dancing for the camera on the exhortation of a man (allegedly a policeman) was also uploaded. As soon as two Indian television channels picked up this story, the predictable reaction of the Andaman and Nicobar administration was set in motion.

Neither the acts described in the report nor what the video shows are new. For nearly a decade, stories have been reported about this kind of incursion into areas that are meant exclusively for the Jarawas. What is disturbing this time is the response of the administration. Claiming it was unaware of these human safaris, the local administration went on to state that this was an “old video”. Even if that is true, as the foreign publications admit, the report of the safari is a recent one and it states that the tour operator had the video on his cell phone and shared it with tourists. An Indian television news channel also ran a story on how a complaint about this video and another similar one being shown to tourists in a travel company’s office was filed in September 2011. Is it really possible for tour operators to take foreign tourists into this area without the authorities knowing anything about it?

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