Forget all those wildlife safaris promising glimpses of lions and tigers. Some tour operators in the Andamans are offering more “exotic” fare.
“Early morning proceed to Baratang Island, it is situated in the northern part of south Andaman. It takes 3 hours journey,” says the website of the Andaman Island Adventure travel company. “In between, you would cross the reserve forest area and if it's your lucky day you may see the old inhabitants of Andamans known as Jarawas.”
Listed as attraction
Spotting the Jarawas is listed right alongside other attractions, including limestone caves and a mud-spewing volcano. The entire package costs just Rs. 6,500 a couple.
Andaman Island Adventure is not the only travel agent in the region which is promoting this kind of human safari for its customers. At least three other companies — Moon Travels, Rhino Jungle Adventures and off-beat Andaman Vacations — all advertise the Jarawas as an attraction in their travel packages.
Off-beat Andaman Vacations, however, does warn that while tourists may see the Jarawas, they are not permitted to interact or take photos of them.
Four other companies have recently removed such promotional material from their websites, after protests by the international NGO Survival.
“The Jarawa people lived successfully on their island without contact with outsiders for probably about 55,000 years, until 1998. Today, a road runs right through their forest home, and they risk decimation by disease,” says Survival director Stephen Corry. “They call themselves the Ang, which means ‘human being', yet they are being ogled at like animals in a game reserve.”
Apart from the insult to human dignity, this kind of tourism puts the community at risk, as the Jarawas are unlikely to have much immunity to common illnesses.
As recently as last month, the government of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands issued warnings that such tourism is illegal.
“It has been brought to the notice of the A&N administration that some of the tour operators are promoting tours to the A&N Islands with the inclusion of sightings of, or encounters with, the Jarawa tribe,” said a press release issued in early May. It clarified that the tribal areas of the islands come under the A&N Island (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulations 1956, and reiterated that the Jarawas are not to be promoted as a ‘tourist attraction' under any circumstances, or even be mentioned in promotional material.
And a paradox
However, such “tourism” is only possible because a controversial highway now runs through the reserve where the 350-odd Jarawas live on. Paradoxically, the same government which issued the warning also insists on keeping the highway, despite a 2002 Supreme Court ruling which ordered that the Andaman Trunk Road be closed.