Isolated tribe not primitive says leading minister

On the UN Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Survival is celebrating the success of its campaign against the use of terms like ‘primitive’ and ‘stone age’ to describe tribal and indigenous peoples in the media.

A leading Indian minister has said that the Jarawa, one of the world’s most isolated tribes who resisted contact with the outside world until 1998, are not primitive.

The minister’s comments come after BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson, prominent journalists John Pilger and George Monbiot, and the UK’s professional body for anthropologists, the Association of Social Anthropologists, have pledged their support for Survival’s campaign.

‘I would not use the word ‘primitive’ for this indigenous population,’ said Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh, speaking about the Jarawa.

Mr Ramesh’s comments are in stark contrast to those made in the UK’s House of Lords last year by Baroness Jenny Tonge, the Liberal Democrat peer, who called the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert ‘primitive’ and ‘stone age.’

Survival International’s Director, Stephen Corry, said today, ‘These terms have been used since colonial times to say that tribal peoples are out-of-date remnants of the past. This is used to justify the illegal theft of their lands and resources by more powerful peoples. It is true that tribal peoples aren’t as powerful as industrialised societies, and of course their ways of life are different, but everyone lives in the same time – now – and no-one is evolutionarily more advanced, or more primitive, than anyone else.’ 

For further information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]