By Alexandre Dereims / Organic the Jarawas
Images copyright by Claire Beilvert
The Jarawa are hunters-gatherers. They have been living on the Indian Andaman Islands for thousands and thousands of years. According to recent studies, they are believed to have taken part in the very first human migrations from Africa to the rest of the world, some 70,000 years ago. And they first encountered Indian citizens only a decade ago. Since then, their situation has severely deteriorated. Women have been abducted and raped by Indians. The Jarawa have lodged several complaints to the Andaman authorities, to no avail.
The Jarawa are also victims of human safaris, organised by local tour operators. These safaris are taking place along the Andaman Truck Road, which was built illegally and cuts through the Jarawa’s territory. Dozens of vehicles, escorted by Indian armed forces, take it every day to photograph the Jarawa. Yet, it is forbidden to enter their territory, subject to prison sentences.
In 2013, Andaman MP Bishnu Pada Ray had even stated in the press that the Jarawa had expressed the desire to join the Indian community. But until now, no one has ever asked them if this was the case.
Alexandre Dereims, a French journalist, and Claire Beilvert, a French press photographer, succeeded in meeting them to ask them that question. They bypassed the ban on entering the reserve. They took every precaution to keep from transmitting diseases to them. The Jarawa allowed them to stay a few days with them to conduct interviews. For the very first time, members of this endangered people are speaking to the outside world.
They told them their story of their foreseeable disappearance, of forceful assimilation. Soon, the starving Jarawa will have no choice but to leave their territory and beg for food along the road. Journalists are sounding the alarm. New Delhi has recently decided to turn Port Blair, the capital city of the Andaman Islands, into the largest port on the Indian Ocean. The nationalist government led by Narendra Modi wants to enhance the tourism potential of these islands, which have become as popular as the Seychelles or the Maldives for the new Indian middle class. It is urgent to ponder about the survival of the most ancient people of Asia. The Indian government is already responsible for the disappearance of the Bo and the Onges, two others afro-asian people of the Andaman islands.
Journalists have launched an online petition to demand that the Indian government enforce the 2013 Supreme Court order to close the Andaman Truck Road. They also demand that the Jarawa’s territory be fully protected and that the AAJVS provide regular communication regarding the situation of the Jarawa people.