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What Murdered the “Mixed-Race” Jarawa Baby?

Ajay Saini (writetoajaysaini@gmail.com) works with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Rather than focusing on the role of the Jarawa man allegedly involved in the killing of an infant in the Andaman Islands, we should probe into the changing relationship of the Jarawa and non-Jarawa population of the island. A shift in the Jarawa identity and their changing relations with the non-Jarawa may have made them even more vulnerable. 

An article titled “Baby’s Killing Tests India’s Protection of an Aboriginal Culture” in the New York Times on 13 March 2016 reported an incident concerning a five-month-old “mixed-race” Jarawa baby whom a Jarawa man had allegedly murdered. This also highlighted the lesser-known “ritual killings” of infants (fathered by outsiders) among the Jarawa that led to rampant media speculations on the Jarawa culpability in the crime. While the article succeeded in drawing attention to a sensitive issue in the islands, the subsequent media reports, failed to grasp the issue and have proffered only a fractured analysis.

A Background

The Jarawas are a small hunter-gatherer community of 420 indigenes who inhabit the 1,021 sq km tribal reserve in the western region and coastal belt of Middle and South Andaman. Traditionally, the Jarawa have lived in the Andaman Islands with intermittent cross-cultural contacts. They form a self-contained community that relies on its own technologies and survives on the forest/aquatic resources available in its ecological habitat. After the promulgation of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation (ANPATR) in 1956, the Jarawa habitat was declared as a tribal reserve where the entry of unsolicited non-Jarawa population is strictly prohibited.

On 16 November  2015, a Jarawa man allegedly murdered a five-month-old “mixed-race” baby born to an unmarried Jarawa woman in Tirur No 4 village. Upon investigation, it was revealed that two non-Jarawa men were also allegedly involved in the crime. One is reported to have provided alcohol to the Jarawa man and persuaded him to murder the baby; the other allegedly sexually exploited the Jarawa woman and fathered the baby. While both the non-Jarawa men were arrested and sent to judicial custody, the police have sought guidance from the Department of Tribal Welfare concerning the Jarawa man who is also accused of murder in the complaint.

What is the larger politics behind the framing of this incident and its reportage in the media? Against the backdrop of the Jarawa and non-Jarawa relations, this article discusses the issue and explores the socioeconomic conditions that may have led to the child’s murder. 

Setting Relations Right

In the initial phase of the colonisation of Andaman Islands, the British faced fierce hostility from the indigenous groups that inhabited the islands. The Jarawa, who also shared hostile relations with other neighbouring groups, made their first attack on the British in 1863 (Chandi 2010). The British attempted to forge friendly ties with the hostile groups by opening the “Andamanese Homes,” where they were provided free rations, lodging, and medical facilities (Radcliffe-Brown 1922). While such a strategy succeeded in pacifying some indigenous groups, the Jarawa remained hostile.

In 1905, the British set up Bush Police outposts to protect its forest depots from the hostile Jarawa and carried numerous punitive expeditions against them. However, as Pandya (2010) argues, the coastal areas connected to the Jarawa forest were treated differently. The British ships had already started visiting this area since 1789 to explore the islands and to strike friendly relations with the Jarawa by offering them gifts. Despite punitive as well as friendly strategies of the British, the Jarawa remained hostile and continued their resistance against the encroachment of their resources. 

After India’s independence, especially in the 1950s, 60s, and the 70s, a large number of people from mainland India and Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) were settled in the Andamans under rehabilitation schemes. Large tracts of Andamans forest was cleared, and settlements also came around the Jarawa territories. With an increase in the non-Jarawa population in the islands, trespassing into the reserve also escalated.

To ensure that the indigenes had exclusive access to food resources for survival, the government created the Jarawa tribal reserve in 1956 and set up Bush Police outposts around the Jarawa territory and the settler colonies.[i]  The Bush police network was set up to protect the Jarawa resources and to reduce the Jarawa and non-Jarawa conflict. However, as Pandya (2010) and Acharya (2010) argue, the Bush Police and police patrols themselves started poaching in the reserve and became the chief exploiters of its resources. The lack of enforcement of the protective provisions of the ANPATR (1956) also emboldened the non-Jarawa to intrude and extract resources from the reserve. On top of ambushing the encroachers, the Jarawa retaliated by raiding the Bush Police outposts and the nearby non-Jarawa settlements that resulted in numerous casualties on both sides.

The government continued the British policy of pacifying the Jarawa through contact missions. Contact parties visited and left coconuts, scrap metal, knives, nails, puffed rice, beads, and mirrors on the west coast beaches. These contact missions received a significant success in 1970 when the Jarawa let the contact party land on the beach.

In 1975, the government formed the Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS) to look after the interests of the particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) in the islands (Pandya 2010). As the population in the islands increased, a need for more infrastructure development was also felt. The most contentious of such developments in the islands was the construction of a 343 km long Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) in 1988, 35 km of which passes through the Jarawa reserve.[ii] In the beginning, the indigenes resisted the large-scale felling of trees and construction of the road by attacking the construction labourers. After its operation, they tried to obstruct traffic by shooting arrows at the vehicles.

While the contact missions of the government received a moderate success in establishing friendly relations with the Jarawa, a breakthrough came after an event in 1996. As Pandya and Mazumdar (2012) narrate, in April 1996, a Jarawa boy— Enmei, was found injured on the fringe of the tribal reserve. The boy was taken to Port Blair where he spent five months in G B Pant Hospital before returning to his community in October 1996.

A year after his return, Enmei led a friendly group of the Jarawa to the Uttara Jetty in Middle Andaman. It was a significant event in the history of the Jarawa and non-Jarawa relations, as it signified that the traditionally hostile tribe had shed its fear of the enen (outsider). After this incident, the Jarawa were frequently seen on the ATR, and they also started visiting government hospitals to seek medical treatment. A close and sustained contact with the outer world gradually ended their hostility towards the non-Jarawa in 1998–99. 

Present Crisis

The murder of the “mixed-race” Jarawa baby is a complex and sensitive issue that needs to be understood against the backdrop of changing Jarawa and non-Jarawa relations. Pandya (2007 cited in Sekhsaria and Pandya 2010) argues that after a change in its relations with the non-Jarawa, the Jarawa community has experienced certain shifts in their life. It has adopted new technologies, for instance--usage of matchboxes over traditional techniques to light fire, plastic bags instead of baskets, and changed their dressing patterns and dietary practices.

The indigenes have also been seen begging for food from tourists on the ATR, which, as Sekhsaria (2013) reasons, has become “the vector and the catalyst for a perverse kind of tourism with tourists taking a ride here in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Jarawa who traditionally don’t wear clothes.” Numerous media reports in the past had raised concerns over the Jarawa-centric “human safaris” organised by tour operators in the reserve. The Observer video (Chamberlain 2012) wherein a policeman allegedly sexually harassed a Jarawa woman showed the extent to which this group was marginalised and oppressed in their own lands.

With a change in the attitude of the Jarawa towards the outsider, poaching in the tribal reserve has increased. Now the non-Jarawa are not afraid of entering the resource-rich reserve. Sometimes, they also intrude with the tacit approval of the indigenes whose food resources— pig, deer, crab and honey, they take away in exchange for sugar, rice, vegetable oil, tobacco, and alcohol.

Such exploitation is not merely limited to the extraction of resources from the reserve, but the community is also being subjected to rampant sexual abuse.[iii] Following an event in 2014, when a non-Jarawa man abducted eight Jarawa girls, who were later rescued and brought back[iv], the Andaman Chronicle (2014) released an audio clip[v] of a Jarawa man wherein he explained how non-Jarawas have been sexually abusing Jarawa girls. While mentioning the names of 20 perpetrators who regularly trespass into the reserve and sexually assault the girls, the Jarawa revealed that, 

The girls say…the enen (outsider) boys press them a lot. When the girls get angry, these boys press them with their hands and nails. They chase the girls under the influence of alcohol and have sex with them. All the girls, (and he names around 10 girls). (names of the offenders) come to the girls and (more names) drink alcohol in the hut of girls. They also sleep in Jarawa’s chadda (hut). They chase the girls after smoking marijuana.

While the police have been investigating the role of the two accused non-Jarawa in the “mixed-race” baby’s murder, the larger question that has hitherto eluded our attention in this case is—What is the role of the governmental agencies that are entrusted to protect the interests of the PVTGs in the islands? How could the accused non-Jarawa trespass into the protected reserve, sexually exploit the Jarawa woman, supply alcohol and possibly instigate the Jarawa man to murder the baby? 

Despite various protective provisions— ANPATR (1956), Wildlife Protection Act (1972), the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (1989), the Jarawa Tribal Policy (2004), and inclusion of the protection of the Jarawa in the tourism policy in 2009, the Jarawa community continues to experience exploitation. The AAJVS/Tribal Welfare Department, Police and Forest Department are the three agencies that are entrusted to protect the PVTGs in the islands. As a custodian of the community, the AAJVS interacts closely with the Jarawa and plays a vital role in protecting their interest. Other than providing medical facilities, food items, cloths, and material equipment to the indigenes, it also protects them from outer exploitation. The AAJVS works with the police and the forest department that are entrusted to prevent conflicts, intrusions, poaching and extraction of resources from the reserve. However, the prevailing negligence, insidious corruption and lack of coordination among these agencies have failed the very purpose of their existence.  

The staff of these agencies have been accused of inaction, dereliction of duty, and exploitation of the Jarawa resources. For instance, after the release of the Jarawa video in 2012 that built strong national and international pressure on the island’s administration, the assistant commissioner of police confirmed the involvement of a police officer in the incident, who the Jarawa women had identified during the investigation. However, weeks later, the inspector general of police, who was specially assigned the duty to monitor the activities in the reserve, took his family members and guests on a “human safari,” following which he was transferred from the islands.

In 2014, four Jarawa babies died due to AAJVS’s carelessness in providing postnatal care and an alleged administration of expired drugs (amoxicillin) to the indigenes. In yet another incident in 2014, a French filmmaker revealed his documentary project— “Organic Jarawa,” that he had filmed in the reserve. Three foreign nationals accompanied by the Karen indigenes trespassed into the reserve multiple times over a few years and shot a documentary on the Jarawas by offering them rations. The administration was not aware of the incident until the filmmakers themselves revealed it,[vi] which raised questions not only on the AAJVS, forest department, and police but coast guard, Intelligence Bureau, and other defence agencies as well.

These are a few major incidents that happened after the Jarawa video controversy (2012), and also came to the limelight. Incidents, such as illegal timber extraction, poaching, intrusion and sexual abuse are not infrequent in the reserve. The AAJVS, police, and the forest staff are also aware of such violations against which they either take negligible or insufficient legal action. The dependency of the AAJVS staff on the police/forest department and lack of cooperation from these agencies have incapacitated it from protecting the habitat of the Jarawa.

The police succumb to local political pressure and do not press appropriate charges against the offenders. Usually, the forest beat staff only seizes the contraband/equipment from the intruders and let them go. On top of a lack of proper monitoring, transparency and accountability of these agencies, the senior officials are also reluctant to take disciplinary actions against the guilty/negligent employees. 

The situation in Tirur, where the baby was murdered, is critical as the Jarawa have more interactions with the non-Jarawa in this region vis-à-vis the ATR and the Kadamtala. Consequently, Tirur has gained notoriety for rampant incidents of intrusion, poaching, and sexual exploitation. The non-Jarawa have introduced alcohol to the community which is an emerging critical problem facing the indigenes of Tirur.[vii] The following excerpt from a report of Light of Andamans (Ahmed 2013) on Tirur elucidates how alcoholism, sexual abuse, and police/official inaction are intricately linked to the problem in this region:

Some of them (settlers/non-Jarawa) have erected small sheds behind their houses, where liquor is served, and obscene films are shown to the Jarawa to lure them to indulge in sexual acts. Though, such incidents were very much in the knowledge of police as well as the officer posted in Tirur, they turned a blind eye to (such incidents). 

There are regular intrusions in the reserve at Tirur and police complaints have also been filed against some incidents. However, even in cases of most serious violations such as sexual abuse, only petty charges are filed against the offenders. The majority of the girls/women that the non-Jarawa molest comprises orphans, unmarried or widows who allegedly do not testify against them. Therefore, the conviction rate remains very low[viii]. With no effective deterrence to crime, these people keep on violating the ANPATR (1956) and become habitual offenders.

Conclusions

Throughout the colonial epoch and even until recently, the non-Jarawa viewed the Jarawa community as a nuisance and adopted a mix of punitive and friendly measures to exploit their resources. A shift in the Jarawa identity—from a hostile tribe to a friendly community has also changed their relations with the non-Jarawa, and made them even more vulnerable. Now, exploitation in the tribal reserve is not limited to the extraction of forest and aquatic resources. Sexual abuse and exploitation is almost considered the right of the non-Jarawa men. Therefore, a significant number of people regularly trespass into the reserve and sexually abuse Jarawa girls that lead to incidents of birth of “mixed-race” babies.

Pandya and Mazumdar (2016) argue that “shankhutayen”—the practice of eliminating the illegitimate babies has almost disappeared among the Jarawa. If such a practice is still prevalent, then “why did the Jarawa (would have) need(ed) the help of non-tribal intruders to carry out the act this time?” Therefore, an unwarranted focus on the “ritual killings” among the Jarawa, and debate on the Jarawa culpability in the crime would only deflect our attention from the core of the problem.

Despite various protective provisions and agencies to safeguard the interests of the PVTGs in the islands, the Jarawa continue to experience exploitation. As is evident in this article, the staff of these agencies is also responsible for creating crime-conducive conditions that not only let the non-Jarawa violate the ANPATR (1956), but also encourage them to become habitual offenders.

Instead of blaming the community for the incident or focusing on “who” murdered the baby (the Jarawa man), the investigation needs to zero in on a multitude of factors, conditions, agencies, agents and ulterior interests that are intricately linked to both these incidents— the birth and the murder of the “mixed-race” baby. Along with the two accused men, the guilty staff/officials should also be brought to justice so that such ANPATR-related violations cannot go on. To begin with, an appropriate line of inquiry in this case is—“what murdered the “mixed-race” Jarawa baby?”  

Notes

[i] By 1961, there were 44 camps with a workforce of 346 persons. In addition, there were 150 constables attached to the forest department (Doabia 2012).

[ii] Awaradi (1990 as cited in Acharya 2010: 74) argues that the Master Plan for Tribal Development admits that the ATR has marginalised the Jarawa.  

[iii] For further details, see a report by Mukerjee and Giles.  

[iv] Seven non-Jarawa were arrested under various sections of ANPATR (1956) and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

[v] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=U7JgtddzvIU

[vi] See http://www.organicthejarawa.com/#!faqs/cc2w

[vii] In 2013, two Jarawa men at Tirur clashed under the influence of alcohol; one of them was seriously injured and hospitalised.

[viii] As per the Lieutenant Governor (2014) of the islands, only 35 offenders have been convicted since 2004.

References

Acharya, Samir (2010): “Andaman Trunk Road and the Jarawa situation,” The Jarawa Tribal Reserve Dossier: Cultural and Biological Diversities in the Andaman Islands, Pankaj Sekhsaria and Vishvajit Pandya (ed), Paris: UNESCO, pp 72–76, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001876/187690e.pdf.

AC Bureau (2014): “Poachers Sexually Exploit Jarawa Girls under Influence of Alcohol and Ganja,” Andaman Chronicle, 1 February, http://www.andamanchronicle.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4298:exclusive-jarawa-man-speaks-out&catid=49:highlight&Itemid=200.

Ahmed, Zubair (2013): “Jarawas in Tirur: Irreversible Cultural Damage!,” Light of Andamans, 19 November, http://lightofandamans.blogspot.in/2013/11/jarawas-in-tirur-irreversible-cultural.html.

Chamberlain, Gethin (2012): “Andaman Islands Tribe Threatened by Lure of Mass Tourism,” Observer, 7 January, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jan/07/andaman-islands-tribe-tourism-threat.

Chandi, Manish (2010): “Territory and landscape around the Jarawa Reserve,” The Jarawa Tribal Reserve Dossier: Cultural and Biological Diversities in the Andaman Islands, Pankaj Sekhsaria and Vishvajit Pandya (ed), Paris: UNESCO, pp 30–42, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001876/187690e.pdf.

Doabia, TS (2012): “Report on Jarawas”, 16 March, http://lightofandamans.blogspot.in/2012/04/court-commissioner-advocate-ts-doabias.html.   

Mukherjee, Madhusree and Denis Giles, “Sexual Oppression and the Andamanese,” https://www.academia.edu/5462112/Sexual_Oppression_and_the_Andamanese.

Pandya, Vishvajit (2010): “Hostile Borders on Historical Landscapes: The Placeless Place of Andamanese Culture,” The Jarawa Tribal Reserve Dossier: Cultural and Biological Diversities in the Andaman Islands, Pankaj Sekhsaria and Vishvajit Pandya (ed), Paris: UNESCO, pp 18–29, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001876/187690e.pdf.

Pandya, Vishvajit and Madhumita Mazumdar (2012): “Making Sense of the Andaman Islanders: Reflections on a New Conjuncture,” Economic and Political Weekly, Issue 44, No 3, pp 51–58, http://www.epw.in/journal/2012/44/special-articles/making-sense-andaman-islanders.html.

--(2016): “Jarawa Baby Killing: Open Letter to the Editor New York Times,” Light of Andamans, 16 March, http://lightofandamans.blogspot.in/2016/03/jarawa-baby-killing-open-letter-to.html.

Radcliffe-Brown, A R (1922): The Andaman Islanders, New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Sekhsaria, Pankaj and Vishvajit Pandya (2010): “Introductory Note,” The Jarawa Tribal Reserve Dossier: Cultural and Biological Diversities in the Andaman Islands, Pankaj Sekhsaria and Vishvajit

Pandya (ed), Paris: UNESCO, pp 6–9, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001876/187690e.pdf.

Sekhsaria, Pankaj (2013): “A road still runs through it” Hindu, 5 February, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-road-still-runs-through-it/article4379313.ece.

 

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