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The isolated Jarawa tribe of the Andaman Islands, who hit the headlines for surviving the 26 December tsunami intact, are now in danger of being wiped out completely by settlers invading their land.
The 270-strong tribe live in the forest and hunt with bows and arrows. They have only had friendly contact with the outside world since 1998. Now, Indian settlers on their islands are invading their land, stealing the animals they hunt, plying them with alcohol and tobacco, sexually abusing Jarawa women and using the men as cheap labour in return for a few bananas. Local police are often complicit in this abuse.
Uncontrolled contact with outsiders also carries a serious risk of infecting the tribe with diseases to which, after thousands of years of isolation, they have no immunity.
The Andamans authorities announced in December a ground-breaking new policy to protect the Jarawas' rights, including measures to combat poaching and the invasion of their land, but these have not been implemented. One local activist reports that 'nobody is interested' and that the Jarawa are now under the 'greatest threat'.
Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, 'On paper, India's policy on the Jarawa is one of the most advanced on isolated peoples anywhere in the world. But if the authorities do not act now to change the situation on the ground, I fear the Jarawa will not survive.'
Almost uniquely, the Jarawa suffered no casualties when the tsunami hit their islands. It is thought that their sophisticated knowledge of their environment enabled them to detect early warning signs and reach higher ground in time.
Photos and footage available. For more information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]