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CfB Bureau

One of the most distinctive, but relatively little known features of the Andaman Islands is an entity of land and sea called the Jarawa Tribal Reserve (JTR) - a space legally notified in the name and, arguably, the interests of the Jarawa tribal community. Until recently, the Jarawa were hostile to outsiders. As a result, those who might have exploited the resources of the reserve - poachers, settlers and developers - were denied access. However, the Jarawa have now chosen to cease hostilities, and the borders of the Jarawa Tribal Reserve have become permeable to intrusion, even though legally off limits to outsiders. The multiple changes that have ensued have enormous ramifications for both the Jarawa people and their lands.

The ‘Jarawa Tribal Reserve Dossier…’ is a UNESCO document prepared by Pune-based Kalpavriksh and released in the World Biodiversity Year, on the Jarawa and their Reserve. Information on the tribe and their land and sea remains scattered and difficult to access even today. This underlines the importance of this comprehensive 212-page dossier on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands' history and geography, complete with maps and bibliography.

The well-researched document gives a detailed picture of the archipelago's original inhabitants – such as the Jarawas, the Onges, and the Sentinelese; their resource bases; the tribes' strengths and weaknesses; the conflicts from 1885 onwards; the impact of economic activity; and the State's developmental agendas.

The Jarawa Tribal Reserve (JTR) and the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) form the crux of the dossier. It also mentions an expert panel recommendation to ensure “self-determination by the Jarawas”. The rationale for it is: “This has to be the ultimate aim of any process that will involve the Jarawas – to help them negotiate with a rapidly changing, predatory world that exists around them. Unless this is done, the future can only be considered grim.” A recommendation whose implementation no interested party on the islands is likely to facilitate.

The editors of the document, Pankaj Sekhsaria and Vishvajit Pandya, do not claim that their compilation provides complete information on the unique ecosystem of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This long-due assessment of all the forces at work in the Andamans, however, makes a valiant attempt to crystallise one question: What is it that needs to be done in the Andamans?


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