WHO ARE THE JARAWA?

The Jarawa are the last descendants of the first modern humans. They left Africa to explore the world 70,000 years ago. There are no more than 420 of them. They live in groups of about 50 individuals. The Jarawa are one of the last Afro-Asian peoples of the Andaman Islands in India. They are pygmies. They lead a hunter–gatherer lifestyle, and lived in complete isolation for tens of thousands of years. They are semi-nomadic. Their diet consists mainly of wild pigs, turtles, crabs and fish that they catch with bows and arrows in coral reefs. They also collect fruits, roots, tubers and honey. Very little is known about the history of the Jarawa. Their hostility to the outside world has preserved them, but almost no one has been able to study their language and culture. 

Far from the clichés perpetuated by Indians who believe the Jarawa are cannibals, the most ancient people in the world still carry human values that we have forgotten or are trying to recover. The Jarawa live happy and free, without creeds or fears, without a leader or a hierarchy. They live simply on what nature gives them, without speculating on the future, without regretting the past. They only hunt for what they need. They respect their environment. They live in harmony, without violence or hatred. They live in peace and solidarity. For millennia, they have managed to preserve their joy of life. If they disappear, we will lose the memory of the first human beings, the ancestors of all of us. 

 

WHERE DO THE JARAWA LIVE? 

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in the Indian Ocean, are a union territory of India. Port Blair is the territory's administrative capital and largest city. The archipelago consists of 204 islands (38 of which are inhabited) between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, about 200 km south of Myanmar (Burma). The islands have 314,239 Indian inhabitants and 420 Jarawa. The Andaman Islands are home to the last Afro-Asian peoples in the world. Some of these peoples, such as the Great Andamanese, have disappeared. Others, such as the Onge, are almost extinct. Only the Jarawa and the Sentinelese have managed to resist and preserve their way of life.

The largest island is called Great Andaman. It is 250 km long. The Jarawa live in the southern and central part of the island. Their territory is 115 km long and 10 to 20 km wide. Access to the area by land or by sea is completely forbidden. Indian forest rangers constantly patrol their territory, aircraft fly over it and police vessels cruise off the shores of their beaches. Any intrusion is punishable by a prison sentence.

Yet, a road cuts through their territory.

 

THE ANDAMAN TRUNK ROAD : AN IMMEDIAT THREAT

In the 70s, the Andaman Trunk Road was built on the Jarawa's territory. It connects Port Blair, the capital, to Diglipur, the northernmost town on Great Andaman. It cuts through their forest. In late 1997, for the first time, several Jarawa left their territory to visit Indian villages. Up to that time, they had attacked the vehicles that took the road. Since then, a peculiar sort of tourism has developed along this road. Military convoys take the road twice a day, on round-trips. They secure dozens of coaches loaded with tourists who hope to take some pictures of the Jarawa: a veritable human zoo. We personally witnessed it. We saw Indian forest rangers force Jarawa families into a trolley along the route so that tourists could take pictures of them.

This scandal was revealed by Gethin Chamberlain, a journalist for the Observer who posted a video filmed by an Indian police officer on behalf of a tourist. He encouraged the Jarawa to dance in exchange for food. The Indian police officer was briefly jailed. On 21 January 2013, a bench of judges (GS Singhvi and HL Gokhale) passed an order forbidding tourists to take this road. But a petition for its reopening was filed on behalf of the local population, who stated that the Andaman Trunk Road was vital to the economy of the archipelago. On 5 March 2013, the Supreme Court of India revised the order and allowed the road to be reopened.

Since then, human safaris have resumed.  

In 2015, the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi expressed a desire to hasten the development of the Andaman Islands to upgrade military facilities and promote trade and tourism. The Jarawa are directly threatened. Andaman MP Bishnu Pada Ray order to widen the Andaman Trunk Road. The works has started and it will take months and will seriously affect the Jarawa.

OTHER DANGERS THAT THE JARAWA FACE

Local authorities, the Indian Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the AAJVS (a government organisation responsible for the security of the Jarawa) and Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Mr AK Singh are direct accomplices as they are failing to take all the necessary measures to protect the Jarawa.

In 2012, Andaman MP Bishnu Pada Ray stated that the Jarawa wanted to give up their way of life and join the Indian community. But no one had asked them for their opinion. Therefore, as journalists, we decided to bypass the ban on meeting with them and give them a chance to speak.