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CfB Bureau

It has been five years since the “human safaris” were first exposed by Survival International and over 12,000 people have since pledged not to holiday in the Andaman Islands. But hundreds of tourists continue to pass through the Jarawa's reserve on a daily basis, disturbing the game the tribe hunts for survival, and effectively treating them like animals in a zoo.


There is growing international concern over the Andaman Islands’ administration failure to end “human safaris” to protect the vulnerable Jarawa tribe by its self-imposed deadline of March 2015. Though some positive steps have been initiated towards taking tourists off an illegal road that runs through the Jarawa’s reserve, progress on the alternative sea route has been woefully slow.

The Supreme Court of India in 2002 had ordered that the highway through the Jarawa’s reserve should be closed, but it remains open – and tourists use it for ‘human safaris’ to the Jarawa.

In 2013, the Andaman authorities promised the Supreme Court that they would introduce an alternative sea route by March 2015, but building work has not yet started. Plans have also been announced to widen the Andaman Trunk Road (outside the reserve) and build two new bridges.

It has been five years since the “human safaris” were first exposed by Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, and over 12,000 people have since pledged not to holiday in the Andaman Islands until the human safaris are stopped.

But hundreds of tourists continue to pass through the reserve on a daily basis, disturbing the game the Jarawa hunt for their survival, and effectively treating the Jarawa like animals in a zoo.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry says: “The longer the construction of the alternative route takes to complete, the greater the risk to the Jarawa who, like all recently contacted peoples, face catastrophe unless their land is protected. It’s a hugely positive step that the process has begun, it is now vital that the alternative route is built as quickly as possible.”

The Jarawa are extremely vulnerable to exploitation by outsiders and could face a similar fate to that of the neighboring Great Andamanese tribe, who were decimated by forced settlement and diseases introduced by British colonizers.

The tribes of the Andaman Islands – the Jarawa, Great Andamanese, Onge and Sentinelese – are believed to have lived in their Indian Ocean home for up to 55,000 years. They are now vastly outnumbered by several hundred thousand Indians, who have settled on the islands in recent decades.

In 1999 and 2006, the Jarawa suffered outbreaks of measles – a disease that has wiped out many tribes worldwide following contact with outsiders.

Poachers enter the Jarawa’s forest and steal the animals the tribe requires for their survival. They have also introduced alcohol and marijuana and are known to sexually abuse Jarawa women.

Last year, it was revealed that poachers regularly enter the Jarawa reserve and some lure young Jarawa women with alcohol or drugs to sexually exploit them.

The Jarawa

Today, approximately 400 members of the nomadic Jarawa tribe live in groups of 40-50 people in chaddhas – as they call their homes.

Like most tribal peoples who live self-sufficiently on their ancestral lands, the Jarawa continue to thrive, and their numbers are steadily growing.

They hunt pig and turtle and fish with bows and arrows in the coral-fringed reefs for crabs and fish, including striped catfish-eel and the toothed pony fish. They also gather fruits, wild roots, tubers and honey. The bows are made from the chooi wood, which does not grow throughout the Jarawa territory. The Jarawa often have to travel long distances to Baratang Island to collect it.

Both Jarawa men and women collect wild honey from lofty trees. During the honey collection the members of the group will sing songs to express their delight. The honey-collector will chew the sap of leaves of a bee-repellant plant, such as Ooyekwalin, which they will then spray with their mouths at the bees to keep them away. Once the bees have gone the Jarawa can cut the bee’s nest, which they will put in a wooden bucket on their back. The Jarawa always bathe after consuming honey.

A study of their nutrition and health found their ‘nutritional status’ was ‘optimal’. They have detailed knowledge of more than 150 plant and 350 animal species.

In 1998, a few Jarawa started to emerge from their forest for the first time without their bows and arrows to visit nearby towns and settlements.

In 1990 the local authorities revealed their long-term ‘master plan’ to settle the Jarawa in two villages with an economy based on fishery, suggesting that hunting and gathering could be their ‘sports’. The plan was so prescriptive it even detailed what style of clothes the Jarawa should wear. Forced settlement had been fatal for other tribes in the Andaman Islands, just as it has been for most newly-contacted tribal peoples worldwide.

Following a vigorous campaign by Survival and Indian organisations, the resettlement plan was abandoned, and in 2004 the authorities announced a radical new policy: the Jarawa would be allowed to choose their own future, and that outside intervention in their lives would be kept to a minimum. This was an enormous success for the international and Indian campaign.

Problems and threats

Of the four Andaman Island tribes, it is the Jarawa’s situation that is the most precarious. The road that cuts through their territory brings thousands of outsiders, including tourists, into their land. The tourists treat the Jarawa like animas in a safari park.

The fate of the Great Andamanese and Onge peoples serves as a vivid warning of what may happen to the Jarawa unless their rights to control who comes onto their land and to make their own decisions about their ways of life are recognized.

Influential figures in India, including government ministers, have often called for the Jarawa to be assimilated, believing that they are ‘backward’ or ‘primitive’. This request, however, has not come from the Jarawa, who show no sign of wanting to leave their life in the forest.

But since 2004, the Indian government’s policy towards the Jarawa has been very positive: the general principle is that the tribe themselves should control their future, with minimal intervention from the state. However, there are still many who are clamoring for this to change.

Survival’s position

Survival advocates neither isolation nor integration, believing – as with all tribal peoples – that they themselves are best placed to determine what, if any, changes they wish to make to their lives. Crucial to having the time and space to make these decisions is that their land is properly protected from outside incursions.

The principal threat to the Jarawa’s existence comes from encroachment onto their land, which was sparked by the building of a highway through their forest in the 1970s. The Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) brings outsiders into the heart of their territory.

The ATR has also encouraged ‘human safaris’, where tour operators drive tourists along the road in the hope of ‘spotting’ members of the tribe.

Illegal hunting, fishing and gathering, from both local and foreign poachers, remains a serious threat to the Jarawa’s survival. The theft of the food they rely on risks robbing them of their self sufficiency and driving the tribe to extinction. Since 1993 Survival has been lobbying the Indian government to close the Andaman Trunk Road, believing that only the Jarawa should decide if, when and where outsiders traverse their land.

In 2002, the Indian Supreme Court ordered the closure of the road, yet it still remains open.

In 2013, following a campaign from Survival and local organization ‘Search’ to ban ‘human safaris’, the Supreme Court banned tourists from travelling along the ATR for seven weeks. After the Andaman Authorities changed their own rules in order to allow the human safaris to continue, the Supreme Court had no choice but to reverse the ban.

The Andaman Authorities have committed to opening an alternative sea route to Baratang by March 2015. This sea route would stop the human safaris as tourists would no longer have an excuse to drive through the Jarawa’s forest. Despite promises to the Supreme Court and pressure from Survival and local organisation Search, the project is already running woefully behind schedule.

Survival has been calling for the Andaman authorities to clamp down on poaching and to ensure that those arrested are prosecuted. Although in recent years many poachers have been arrested, none have been been sentenced by the courts, despite the offence carrying a prison term of up to seven years.


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