The Last Jarawa An ancient indigenous tribe is on the verge of extinction in India's Andaman Islands. Habitat loss, disease and exploitation could wipe out the 400-strong Jarawa tribe, who still hunt using bows and arrows. Lapses in policing and continued activity by tour operators, who encourage 'human safaris' where Jarawa women and children have in the past performed for tourists, are partly to blame for jeopardising the tribe's existence.
The Jarawa (also Järawa, Jarwa) are one of the adivasi indigenous peoples of the Andaman Islands in India. Their present numbers are estimated at between 250-400 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.
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 antiquity; however, until quite recent times they were infrequently visited, and such contacts were predominantly sporadic and temporary. For the greater portion of their history their only significant contact has been with other Andamanese groups; the experience of such a lengthy period of isolation almost completely lacking in external cultural influences is equaled by few other groups in the world, if at all.
There is some indication that the Jarawa regarded the now-extinct Jangil tribe as a parent tribe from which they split centuries or millennia ago, even though the Jarawa outnumbered (and eventually out-survived) the Jangil. The Jangil (also called the Rutland Island Aka Bea) were presumed extinct by 1931, sixteen years prior to Indian independence.
Impact of the Great Andaman Trunk Road The biggest threat to the Jarawa in recent years came from the building of the Great Andaman Trunk Road through their newer western forest homeland in the 1970s. In late 1997, some Jarawa started coming out of their forest to visit nearby settlements for the first time. Within months a serious measles epidemic broke out. Later, in 2006 the Jarawa suffered another outbreak of measles. There were however, no reported deaths.
The impact of the highway, in addition to widespread encroachment, poaching and commercial exploitation of Jarawa lands, caused a lawsuit to be filed with the Calcutta High Court, which has jurisdiction over the islands. The case escalated to the Supreme Court of India as a Public Interest Litigation (or PIL). The Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, the Bombay Natural History Society and Pune-based Kalpavriksh joined in the petition, resulting in a landmark High Court judgment in 2001, directing the administration to take steps to protect the Jarawa from encroachment and contact, as well as preemptively ruling out any program that involved relocating the Jarawa to a new reservation. Planned extensions of the highway were also prohibited by the court. However, the Light of Andamans editorialized that the changes to the Jarawa were likely irreversible and should have been assessed more thoroughly before the road was built.
Impact of tourism A major problem is the volume of sightseeing tours that are operated by private companies, where tourists view, photograph or otherwise attempt interactions with Jarawas, who are often begging by the highway. These are illegal under Indian law, and in March 2008, the Tourism Department of the Andaman and Nicobar administration issued a fresh warning to tour operators that attempting contact with Jarawas, photographing them, stopping vehicles while transiting through their land or offering them rides were prohibited under the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation, 1956, and would be prosecuted under a strict interpretation of the statute. It has been alleged, however, that these rules are openly being flouted with over 500 tourists being taken to view Jarawas daily by private tour operators, while technically being shown as transiting to legitimate destinations and resulting in continuing daily interaction between the Jarawa and day tourists inside the reserve area.
In 2006, the Indian travel company Barefoot had established a resort 3 km distant from the Jarawa reserve. The development was the subject of a recent court case brought by a small section of Andaman authorities who wanted to stop the resort, and appealed against a Calcutta High Court ruling allowing it to continue. Barefoot won that case.
Some Indian tourism companies are threatening the Jarawa way of life, by bringing the tourists too close to their secluded areas where they're tossed food from the caravans like in safari. In 2012, a video shot by a tourist showed women forced to dance by an off-camera policeman.
According to the 2001 Census of India, a total of 240 Jarawa were counted in Andamans.