Miles and miles of dense rain forests stretch on as the sumo continues its bumpy ride to Baratung. I shift and struggle to remain seated. Our convoy might have had atleast fifty vehicles, all continuing the 45 kms stretch lead by a bush police on bike. I have seen many pictures of the Jarawas in Daddy's photo albums from the Andamans dating back to 1973. Wearing only colored roots as dress, holding bows and arrows, the Jarawas of Andamans always have fascinated me. After nearly forty years, i might be lucky to see one of them in the Reserve. The Jarawa Reserve is a dense rain forest starting from Junglighat and extending till Baratung. It is said these tribals never move beyond this island. The Great Andaman Trunk Road is said to be a perfect recipe to disaster for the Jarawa tribes, but simply to ignore the hardwork- the years of painstaking labour, the sacrifices of poor Tamil labourers who built the road, the bush police who had laid down their lives protecting these road workers is incongruous.
|Who owns this Paradise?- Jarawas or Government?|
Daddy had worked as a Jawabdar in early 1970s when the road was first laid straight inside Jarawa heartland. He used to describe the hardships there, the leeches, the horror of people struck by tribal arrows and the miles he had walked on with a small trunk box on his head. When we alighted at Junglighat waiting for the convoy to muster, Daddy showed the camps where he had stayed. The journey went smoothly till we had our first look at the Jarawa children, all wearing shorts, begging at each vehicle. Shocking, they were asking for biscuits and tobacco. Children aged 6 or 7, begging for tobacco, armed with bows, arrows and sickles. Photography of Jarawas is punishable offence and interacting with them too. We had already locked the doors of the vehicle, but the Jarawa children were trying to unlock them from outside. All this happened within a few seconds the vehicle slowed down.
|Picture of Enmey- the first Jarawa contact with outsiders|
A few minutes more into the journey, we see a Jarawa woman, armed with a bow. Two more men stand guard and she comes around the vehicle looking for food. I tried to look into her eyes, all i could see was hunger and anger. Civilisation has not touched her. For some strange reason, though the men wear clothes, the women don't. Worse still, she tried to dance, some strange movement and then extended her arms for begging. That was the moment i felt ashamed- ashamed at being a woman, ashamed that even sixty years after Independence, our sisters remain undressed and ashamed that we have taught the uncivilised tribals how to beg. Hearts heavy, our vehicle moves away as we see many more such tribals begging. Government forbids any contact with Jarawas due to the risk of disease, by the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation,1956. But the rules just remain in book, many of the tribals have become addicted to tobacco, their children to biscuits and cakes and their women to rampant sexual exploitation. Though they remain antagonistic to the tourists taking the Andaman Trunk Road, they remain friendly with the bush policemen and the road workers.
Some of them have even approached a school in Tirur to have their children educated. The issue of Jarawas is complex, they remain fiercely protective of their tribal roots and discipline with total disregard for outsiders. May be that is the reason why the Government can't bring them to schools and proper settlements. It is ironic when organisations say they would like the Jarawas to remain per se. Is it not our duty to atleast let them don clothes and eat a decent meal? Forced settlement of these tribes had been on the cards, but dropped. Simply saying, the Government is clueless as to how to settle these isolated people and take care of them. But poaching, land grabbing, illegal tourism and exploitation will wipe out the Jarawas soon, there are only a few hundreds of them left. The Andaman and Nicobar administration is still deaf to the voices of Jarawas. I hope the Central Government sits up and takes notice of this issue and settles down these poor tribals before it is too late...