Attempts by poachers to manipulate members of the Jarawa tribe in India’s Andaman Islands have backfired following swift action by the authorities. Five poachers have now been arrested and face up to seven years in prison.
On 3 October, a story emerged in the Andaman press that a group of ten Jarawa had left the forest demanding to meet with the Lieutenant Governor of the islands. They reportedly demanded iron tools and food, claiming they were hungry because they weren’t given food by the authorities. They were quoted as saying, "We want our children to study in school, like children of Onge. We also want to become rich."
For many, these demands did not ring true, as the hunter-gatherer Jarawa have shown no sign of wishing to enter the mainstream. The motive behind their demands became clearer when a local leader, who had originally alerted the media to the story, told the Andaman Chronicle, "They want to come into the mainstream… There are so many uninhabited islands. Why can’t the Administration settle them in one of the islands? In this way the settlers will also be able to live in peace."
The administration responded swiftly and the following day a team was sent to investigate. They found that five people, who allegedly have a long history of poaching in the Jarawa’s forest, had entered the Jarawa’s reserve and apparently prompted the Jarawa to make these demands. The authorities also report that the suspects were found to have supplied alcohol to the Jarawa.
The five have been arrested and charged with violating the regulations that protect the tribe and their land. This carries a prison sentence of up to seven years.
The theft of the animals that the Jarawa rely on is a huge threat to the very existence of the tribe. The introduction of liquor to the Jarawa is also extremely dangerous. It could lead to a crippling dependency, not just on alcohol, but also on those from outside who can provide it. This would rob the Jarawa of their self-sufficiency – they have thrived on the islands for up to 55,000 years.
Survival Interational, the organisation which campaigns for the rights of tribal people, has long been calling for greater action against local poachers who remain a serious threat to the tribe. Survival’s Director, Stephen Corry has welcomed the swift action that the Andaman authorities have taken in this case and the message that it sends out to others who invade the Jarawa’s forest.