India’s Supreme Court today reportedly reversed its previous ‘interim order’ to ban ‘human safaris’ in the Andaman Islands, dealing a major blow to the campaign against the controversial tours.
Before the interim order, hundreds of tourists traveled along the illegal Andaman Trunk Road every day in the hope of seeing the isolated Jarawa tribe. Tourists used to throw biscuits or force Jarawa women to dance for food. The January order had reduced the number of vehicles entering the Jarawa reserve by around two thirds.
Tour operators in the Andamans are reportedly preparing for the road to be reopened for tourists on Wednesday.
When Enmai, a young Jarawa man, was asked how he felt when outsiders took pictures of him, he said, ‘I don’t feel good. I don’t like it when they take photos from their vehicles.’
The exploitative ‘human safaris’ have been the target of a three-year campaign by Survival International and local organization Search, and caused worldwide outrage after they were exposed in the British Observer newspaper over a year ago.
In a letter to the Supreme Court ahead of the hearing, Survival urged the Court ‘to make the ban on tourists permanent and to order the Andaman Administration to set up an alternative sea route, and to close the road through the Jarawa reserve completely.’ The Court ordered the road to be closed in 2002, but the Andaman authorities have ignored the order.
Alarm bells also rang when the Court reportedly asked the Andaman authorities ‘whether they wanted the Jarawa to be kept in isolation or to be assimilated in the mainstream’. Forcing tribal peoples into the mainstream has disastrous consequences, as rates of disease, depression, addiction and suicide soar.
The government’s official Jarawa policy states that, ‘No attempts to bring them (the Jarawa) to the mainstream society against their conscious will … will be made.’ But Indian politicians have repeatedly called for their mainstreaming.
The Jarawa, not the authorities, should be able to control the amount and type of contact they have with outsiders, and to choose what, if any, changes they make to their way of life. So far, the Jarawa have shown no sign of wanting to leave their forest to join the mainstream.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, ‘This complete volte-face is extremely alarming, and Survival will continue to campaign vigorously and vociferously for the closure of the road. It’s a terrible thought that it’s back to business as usual for the human safaris. Surely the closure of the road to tourists has given everyone in the Andamans a chance to re-think this degrading and disgraceful practice. Human safaris should not be allowed to begin again.’1)
- Read Progress Can Kill, a report by Survival International, which documents the catastrophic impact mainstreaming has had on tribal peoples around the world.