The future of the recently contacted Jarawa people of the Andaman Islands is to be decided at a closed meeting on 7 and 8 April, in defiance of the Indian High Court which ordered 'open discussions' on the issue.
The Jarawa are one of four 'Negrito' tribes of the Andaman Islands. The neighbouring Great Andamanese and Onge tribes were decimated following forced settlement by British and Indian authorities, but the Jarawa resisted all contact with outsiders until 1997. Now their survival is threatened by a road bulldozed illegally through their land, bringing poachers, exploitation, and new diseases to which they have no immunity.
In 1999 the High Court commissioned an 'Expert Committee' to study the Jarawa and to make recommendations on how to protect them. It also ordered the Andamans administration to organise seminars of 'experts, national and international….., anthropologists, sociologists and…. non-governmental organisations having knowledge and experience in the matter.' Instead, most of those invited to this week's meeting are current or former Indian government employees and members of the committee whose report is to be discussed. The meeting was announced at the last minute, and Survival was told that no 'foreigners' will be allowed to attend.
Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, 'The handling of this seminar is a clear attempt to stifle debate. The voices of people with experience of working with the Andaman tribes, and with recently-contacted tribal peoples around the world, are being silenced. The mistakes made with the Great Andamanese and the Onge must not be repeated. The Jarawa's rights to their land and to decide their own future must be respected. India has an historic opportunity to implement a policy to ensure the Jarawa's survival as an independent and self-confident people for many generations to come.'
For more information contact Miriam Ross (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]
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