Survival Alert is a fortnightly update on the state of indigenous peoples around the world from Survival International. Founded in 1969, Survival International is the globe’s foremost organization working for tribal peoples rights.
In terms of fundamental human rights, 2013 started well for the Jarawa tribe. The Jarawa’s protected reserve of lush forest lies on India’s Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal: For the first time in years, they were able to move freely around their forest without encountering long convoys of vehicles, containing hundreds of ogling tourists, passing through their land.
But this peace was short lived. In March, India’s Supreme Court reversed a ban on tourists traveling along the road that cuts through the Jarawa’s reserve. The local administration had manipulated the terms of a buffer zone around the reserve in such a way that the Supreme Court had no choice but to allow tourists back in.
Every year, 200,000 tourists visit the Andaman Islands—the majority from India, Israel, America and Britain. Since the ban on tourists was lifted, hundreds have streamed back into the tribe’s heartland on a daily basis, ostensibly to travel to Baratang Island north of the reserve.
Local taxi drivers and tour guides tempt tourists with the chance to see the Jarawa. Many travelers openly admit that the real motivation behind their trip along the road is the possibility of spotting a member of the tribe—effectively treating these people like animals in a safari park.
But local taxi drivers and tour guides tempt tourists with the chance to see the Jarawa. Many travelers openly admit that the real motivation behind their trip along the road is the possibility of spotting a member of the tribe—effectively treating these people like animals in a safari park.
The Jarawa’s ancestors are thought to have been part of the first successful human migrations out of Africa, arriving on the islands up to 55,000 years ago. They live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, hunting pig, lizard and fish, and gathering berries and honey.
The Jarawa only came into peaceful contact with settlers in 1998. Since then, poaching has become a major problem for the tribe. Outsiders now enter their land and hunt the animals the Jarawa need to survive.
Given the refusal of local and national administrators to stop these degrading tours, tribal rights organization Survival International has called for a tourism boycott of the Andaman Islands until the “human safaris” to the Jarawa are stopped, and an alternative sea route is put in place (traveling by boat is not only faster and more convenient, but also cheaper).
A tourist bus passing Jarawa reserve on the Andaman Trunk Road which cuts through the their reserve. (Photo: © Ariberto De Blasoni/Survival)
The Jarawa should be allowed to live in their forest without the daily intrusions of hundreds of tourists, and to make their own decisions about how much contact they have with the outside world. The “human safaris” rob the Jarawa of this choice by bringing hundreds of tourists into their land every day.
Survival has written to more than 200 tour companies and travel websites in 11 countries, urging them to stop offering trips to the Andaman Islands. We are also asking members of the public to pledge not to travel there until the “human safaris” are stopped.
Pledge now to stay away from the Andaman Islands until the “human safaris” to the Jarawa are stopped once and for all.
How would you react if sightseeing tours visited your neighborhood and pointed you out as an exotic species? Leave your feelings in COMMENTS.
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Sophie Grig is a senior campaigner at Survival International, an international NGO that works with tribal peoples to defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures. Grig has been with Survival for 17 years and has campaigned on cases in Bangladesh, India, Siberia, Malaysia and Indonesia. She has a Masters in Anthropology from Britain’s Cambridge University. Email Survival | @Survival