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Living on the edge of a modern world

Members of the Jarawa tribe—File Photo  

The recent report about the killing of a Jarawa infant on the Andaman islands has brought into sharp focus the acute problems the tribe has faced since its exposure to the outside world.

Earlier this month, a New York Times story reported that a baby’s light skin led to suspicions of his having been fathered by a non-Jarawa, which in turn led to his murder by a tribe member. The Jarawas, who rarely figure in print or visual media, are a tiny tribe (estimated to be 400-strong), an indigenous community that occupies the Andaman archipelago.

Many who read Sachin Garg’s latest novel We Need A Revolution (Grapevine India) were quick to note a similar incident mentioned in the book. Through his book, inspired by real stories and incidents, Garg brings to fore the innumerable problems faced by the tribe since they were exposed to the outside world. These include sexual exploitation, physical assault, encroachment of their jungle reserve, and poaching of their game. The worst is making them part of a human safari.

The book’s narrative is around tourists Samar and Navya, who join Shubhro, Jenny and Faraaz in their campaign against a local politician who is exploiting the Jarawas. Their struggle is interspersed with varied incidents like assaults on the Jarawas, how they are made to perform and dance for food, and photographed extensively for voyeuristic purpose. Vouching for their authenticity, the writer says, “While some (are) incidents I’ve observed during my visit, the others are documented in the media, and are part of public domain.”

Tribal cultures which opened themselves up to the outside world have paid a price: for example, the Bo tribe in Andaman lost its last living member in 2007. In contrast, the Sentinel islamders, who have consistently dissuaded outsiders landing on their island. Even throwing spears and shooting arrows at aircraft, have been safe.

Did the Jarawas make a fatal mistake? “I feel they would have been better off had they not opened up,” Garg says. “Like the West, we need to put in place clear-cut government policies, and standardised public etiquette while dealing with Jarawas.”

On pointing out that West’s track record while interacting with indigenous population was rather abysmally poor, Garg says, “Let’s learn from their mistakes, and act before it is too late.”

He hopes the book will build a case for putting in place an alternative sea route to reach Baratang Island’s limestone caves. He also advocates banning of the ‘human safaris’. Minimal intermingling, he feels would ensure minimising exploitation, and spread of diseases, drinking and drugs.

Garg has a clear take on the raging conflict of whether to expose the Jarawas to development or let them be. “In the case of others, they want development but not at the cost of their land and resources. But the Jarawas, having survived for hundreds of years, neither want development nor are they pleading to be mainstreamed. Outside contact can kill them.”

He first came in contact with the Jarawas in his teens, and was struck by the inhuman treatment meted out to them. “I thought the people on the mainland and cities must be made aware of the happenings, and as a full-time writer I chose fiction as the means to reach maximum people.”

We Need a Revolution , Rs 116 on amazon.com

Also see: Some of our fellow human beings: The Jarawas on YouTube.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2020 5:58:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/living-on-the-edge-of-a-modern-world/article8398597.ece

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