Video showing tribal people on the Andaman islands apparently being forced by police to dance for tourists in causing a storm in India.
The video, published by the Observer newspaper, shows a policeman ordering two naked girls to dance. He reminds them at the start of the video: “I gave you food.”
The Andaman islands in the Bay of Bengal are home to a number of indigenous tribes who are protected and all contact is supposedly banned with them.
But the video shows dozens of vans full of tourists traveling on a road — which was ordered closed by India’s Supreme Court a decade ago — through the spectacular jungle. Tourists throw food to the tribes people, as you might to animals on a safari.
Denis Giles, editor of the islands’ Andaman Chronicle newspaper, told the Observer that the police are teaching the Jarawa tribes people to beg, then hand over the money they get in exchange for tobacco.
The Andaman tribes are believed to be descended from the first humans to move out of Africa and have largely shunned contact until now. Part of the impact of tourism and other contact is that they have suffered measles epidemics.
Reacting to the media storm in India, local authorities tried to claim that the video is old, threatened Indian TV stations who have shown the video and claimed that the Observer itself had made the video. But recordings made a month ago by The Observer show that the ‘human safari’ is still happening and other recent videos by tourists have emerged. Charity Survival International also say both they and a local social worker warned local authorities about the safaris two years ago.
V Kishore Chandra S Deo, India’s Tribal Affairs Minister, has described the video as “disgusting” and promised action. Stung by the publicity, India ordered that those running the safaris be arrested but local police questioned and then released two men.
Samir Acharya of the Society of Andaman and Nicobar Ecology (SANE), said:
“They are living here for over 60,000 years and we have seen through experiments that an average Jarawa is much fitter than an average policeman. A Jarawa member’s metabolism is different from ours and their bodies are made for rough life, our world’s onslaught is causing them harm.”
Acharya says the Jarawas are getting diseases from their contact with mainstream people. “We have made them wear clothes, but have not been able to teach them that those clothes should also be washed. We rob them of their traditional knowledge, but simply do not know how to deal with them. We can at best leave them in their 700 square kilometres territory.”
Screengrab of Observer video showing tribal women dancing for food