The Jarawa people are comprised of four native tribes in the Andaman Mountains. They are believed to have inhabited their home on the coast of the Indian ocean for nearly 55,000 years. Sadly, in the last decade the Jarawa people have been subject to grave misunderstanding, and arguably mistreatment, from the Indian government. Outside intervention has exposed this ancient tribe to modern diseases that have wiped out much of the population. Today, approximately only 400 members of Jarawa remain. The road that cuts through their territory brings thousands of outsiders into their land. These outsiders include poachers, who illegally poach food sources that the tribe relies on to survive. Even more disturbingly, there is pressure from government officials to force Jarawa integration into ‘mainstream’ Indian society. The fate of the Jarawa serves as a vivid warning of the critical consequences the Jarawa face unless their rights to control who comes onto their land and to make their own decisions about their ways of life are recognized.
Attempts to ‘Mainstream’ the Jarawa
In India, ‘mainstreaming’ refers to the policy of “pushing a tribe to join the country’s dominant society.” Attempts to modernize Jarawa has had a devastating effect on tribal peoples through stripping them of their self-sufficiency, sense of identity, and ancient cultural heritage.
In 2010 an Indian government official called for “quick and drastic steps be taken to bring the Jarawa up to the basic mainstream characteristics’ and for children to be sent to residential schools in order to ‘wean’ the children away from the tribe.” He described the Jarawa as being “in a primitive stage of development’ and ‘stuck in time somewhere between the stone and iron age.”
Other influential figures in India have often called for the Jarawa to be assimilated, believing that they are ‘uncivilized’ or ‘primitive’. Sad attempts have already been made; a recent example had officials attempting to bribe the tribe with bananas in exchange for mainstream schooling of children. However, the Jarawa show no sign of wanting to leave their original lives as a native tribe.
Modern assimilation has drastic effects on the well-being of the fragile society. The members of Jarawa are hurt physically, emotionally, and culturally. Proof of this mistreatment is extremely evident. The guiding principle is that the tribe themselves should control their future, with minimal intervention from the state. The Jarawa 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. This would generate the best outcome for Jarawa. To take action for this critical cause you can:
- E-mail the Indian government asking it to stop the ‘human safaris’ threatening the Jarawa
- Donate to Survival’s campaign for the Jarawa and other threatened tribal peoples
- Write to the Indian government using Survival’s online letter-writing tool
- Write to your MP or MEP (UK) or Senators and members of Congress (US).
- Write to your local Indian high commission or embassy
- If you want to get more involved, contact Survival