Government denies Andaman tribes exploited

Andamans authorities Monday denied that women from the endangered Jarawa tribe in the islands were exploited and forced to dance semi-naked for food as shown in a video footage released by a leading British newspaper.

Officials in the local administration and parliament member Bishnu Pada Ray of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands said the video footage was an old clip but vowed to take action against those involved in the act.

"Things aren't this way but strict action will be taken against those involved," Ray said.

The union home ministry has asked the authorities in the union territory to probe the veracity of the video showing women from the Jarawa tribe, who have inhabited the Andaman Islands for thousands of years, being exploited.

Sources in the ministry said Home Minister P. Chidambaram during his pre-scheduled visit to the union territory Jan 21 will take up the issue with the local administration.
Andaman officials said the video seemed to have been shot years ago.

"The footage is at least four or five years old," Chief Secretary Shakti Sinha said in a television interview.

He said it was difficult to identify the people who have organised the tribal dance though there is "no doubt the people in question have broken the law". He denied that anything like that has happened "in the recent past".

Andamans Police chief S.B. Deol said whoever shot the video has violated the rules and will have to face action. "It is obvious that it is the videographer who is breaking the law of the land and who is inciting the tribals to dance," he said in a statement.

The Guardian posted on its website the footage filmed by a tourist guide in which an official in uniform orders the women to dance because he had given them food.

Journalist Gethin Chamberlain, who was part of the crowd and exposed the alleged exploitation, said the uniformed person was a policeman who had taken a bribe of 200 pounds to arrange the dance.

But the police chief refuted the allegations that police took bribes to take tourists to the Jarawa reserve. "He (the person in uniform) is wearing a camouflage in the video. Police don't wear camouflage. He may be a forest guard," Deol said, adding the video is old.

He said the landscape of the area as shown in the video is not like what it is today.
Condemning the incident as "obnoxious and disgusting", Tribal Affairs Minister V. Kishore Chandra Deo said the video was an old clip but "you cannot treat humans like beasts".

"I will go to the Andamans and see what is happening. I will take it up with the authorities to ensure people responsible for such acts should be punished. It deserves exemplary punishment," Deo said.

Law and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid also advocated strict action against those responsible for forcing tribal women to dance for tourists.

The 400-plus tribe has lived in the Andaman Islands for thousands of years. The Jarawas came in contact with the outside world recently. Its members are trusting, innocent and vulnerable to exploitation, living in a jungle reserve on south Andaman.

In an attempt to reduce contact and prevent tribespeople from being exploited, the authorities have cut the number of convoys to the area to eight a day. But the road to the area cannot be completely closed because of the Supreme Court order in 2002.

Anthropologists believe Jarawa people are descendants of some of the first humans to move out of Africa. They live a simple life and hunt pigs and turtles with bows and arrows for food. Their women gather fruit and honey.

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