Andaman authorities defy India's supreme court

June 2, 2003

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The administration in India's Andaman Islands is defying a supreme court order to close a road running through the reserve of the isolated Jarawa tribe. Until the road is closed, the Jarawa are at great risk of catching fatal diseases.

The recently-contacted Jarawa were given new hope in 2002 when the supreme court issued an order protecting its rights. The courageous ruling ordered the removal of all settlers from Jarawa land and the closure of the road running through their reserve. One year on, with the road still open and the Jarawa in danger from disease and exploitation, the authorities risk destroying one of the last remaining tribes of the Andaman Islands.

The Jarawa are nomadic hunter-gatherers, who have resisted contact with settlers on the Andaman Islands for nearly 150 years. They live in the rainforest, hunting with bows and arrows, and remained hostile to outsiders until very recently.

Since 1948, thousands of Indian settlers have invaded the Jarawa reserve. The 'Andaman Trunk Road' was built illegally through their land in the 1970s, increasing unwanted contact with outsiders, who poach the tribe's vital forest resources and bring diseases to which they have no immunity. An unknown number of Jarawa died in the forest during a measles epidemic in 1999.

Survival International, the worldwide organisation supporting tribal peoples, today launches a letter-writing campaign urging the authorities to protect the Jarawa. Survival's director Stephen Corry said, 'The Indian supreme court's decision presents the Andaman Islands with an historic opportunity to save the unique Jarawa people from destruction. It must not be wasted.'