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Endangered Jarawa and Onge Tribes of India

Jarawa are one of the adivasi indigenous peoples of the Andaman Islands. Their present numbers are estimated at between 250-350 individuals. Since they have largely shunned interactions with outsiders, many particulars of their society, culture and traditions are poorly understood. Their name means “foreigners” or “hostile people” in Aka-Bea.The Jarawa used to be hostile to outsiders at one point in time.

Between 1993-and 1999 , Bush police have reported 73 incidents and deaths of 27 Indians at the hands of the Jarawa. However, the Jarawa made friendly contact with the outside world quite recently.Along with other indigenous Andamanese peoples, they have inhabited the islands for at least several thousand years, and most likely a great deal longer. The Andaman Islands have been known to outsiders since a long time; however, until quite recent times they were infrequently visited, and such contacts were predominantly sporadic and temporary.Villagers complain about the Jarawa coming to their homes and trying to obtain iron for arrowheads from them.But, these settlers can also be seen as people who are threatening the lives of the Jarawa and taking their land from them.

Indian officials used to pay monthly visits to the Jarawa with gifts and items, in hopes of making friendly contact with them. It was on one of these visits that the Jarawa finally accepted their gifts and initiated friendly contact with the authorities.As there has not been much contact with the Jarawa, not much is known about their language and customs.Photographs of the Jarawa are frequently and unscrupulously sold by the shop keepers in the main island- taking photographs of the Jarawa is strictly prohibited, but people for commercial gain with the help of corrupt officials illegally capture photographs of the Jarawa. Mr.Samir Acharya, the head of an environmental organization called SANE( Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology at Port Blair has spoken out about the challenges of integrating the Jarawa into the mainstream.

At one time, the Director of Tribal Welfare air dropped gifts to the Jarawa , even as ethnologists worldwide protested. To protect the Jarawa and to protect their environment is the responsibility of the Indian authorities.However, authorities are mercenarily and unscrupulously destroying the ecological heritage of the Jarawa for wood and timber.Instead of protecting the Jarawa reserve, the Indian authorities are destroying it. Another illegal act of the authorities is to allow the Andaman Trunk road to operate in direct violation of an order by the Supreme Court, the apex court of India, which ordered the authorities to shut down the road.Encroachment, poaching and commerical exploitation of the Jarawa reserve continue, causing great harm to the health and well being of the Jarawa. Due to their isolation from the world, the Jarawa have lowered immunity and excessive contact with the outside world can cause them to be prone to diseases. In fact, the jungle hospital at Kalangtala which treats the Jarawa people suffering from various ailments has noted that Jarawa are suffering from conjunctivitis, measles, flu and pneumonia.

The Jarawa reserve is further violated by the tourists and visitors through the operation of a ferry service which carries vehicles and tourists to and fro on the sea between the islands which the Jarawa inhabit. Equally disturbing is the dwindling number of the Onge tribe of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands,one of the Andamanese adivasi indigenous peoples of the Andaman Islands, located in the Bay of Bengal.The Onge have been pushed into 2 reserves and from a count of 600 Onge, barely a 100 have survived through this present day.They are an endangered tribe as fishermen are gradually capturing their settlement.

The threat to the survival of these tribes cannot be denied any longer. The Indian authorities must act with alertness and promptitude to save the lives and ecological heritage of these endangered tribes of India.

Author: Janhvi Johorey

She is a postgraduate in Applied Psychology. A former researcher and lecturer, she is deeply interested in revival and preservation of ancient indigenous cultures and traditions. She writes to make a difference to the world and make it a better place. She is dedicated to the causes she campaigns for.

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