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    Posted on 08 June 2012
    OPINION  
    Suhas Chakma

    Humiliation, exploitation must stop

    Suhas Chakma on why no time must be lost in creating a buffer zone for the Jarawas

    Illustratio: Sanjoy Naorem


    THE CONTROVERSIAL video film released in January showing scantily clad Jarawa tribal women dancing for tourists in return for food and money woke up the Indian government from its slumber. On 31 May, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni announced that the Cabinet has decided to enact the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Amendment Regulation, 2012 to prohibit all commercial and tourist activities in a designated buffer zone within the 5-km radius around the Jarawa tribal reserve. The amendments also provide for punishments for unauthorised entry, photography, videography, hunting, use of alcohol, inflammable material or biological germs, advertisements to attract tourists in the buffer zone etc. Any violation can attract a prison sentence of three to seven years and a fine up to Rs 10,000.

    What the minister did not state was the fact that the government had drafted the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Amendment Regulation in 2010 but no one bothered to table the Bill until the British newspapers exposed extreme vulnerability and abuse of the Jarawas. The 2010 amendments were brought to address the Calcutta High Court judgement that had set aside the notification issued by the Andaman Union Territory administration on 30 October 2007 to prohibit all commercial and tourist activities within a designated buffer zone. The Calcutta High Court dismissed notification on the grounds that the principal regulation only permitted such notifications for ‘reserved areas’ and the Regulation had no reference to ‘buffer zones’. India had recognised the problems in 2007 but lost five precious years literally doing nothing to protect the Jarawas.

    The proposed 2012 amendments of the Regulation are too little too late, do not address the core problems of the Jarawas and provide no mechanism for implementation of the Regulation.

    Firstly, the 2012 amendments of the Regulation are unlikely to change the ground situation. The existing 1956 Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation already criminalises many of these offences. In fact, Constable Silvarious Kindo, the accused of the Jarwa exploitation video, was arrested under the 1956 Regulation. It did not act as deterrence despite the fact that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 too can be invoked. While stringent punishment may deter, like all other laws of India, enforcement will remain a problem.

    Secondly, the near extinction of the dwindling Jarawa populations cannot be addressed by a law whose enforcement remains suspect. The threat to the Jarawas does not only come from the tourists but equally from those settled in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Taking cognisance of this, the Supreme Court in an order way back in 2002 directed the government to close the sections of the Andaman Trunk Road that run through the Jarawa reserve. In May 2007, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination while examining India’s periodic report recommended implementation of the 2002 Supreme Court order and further requested the Government of India to submit its reply on implementation of the recommendations within a year. Five years have elapsed but the government has failed to submit any reply to the UN body. It is clear that the government has no intention to implement the Supreme Court order.

    SINCE 1956, the Government had not reviewed the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation until the Kolkata High Court judgement exposed its flaws. The government is still undecided on saving the Jarawas. On the one hand, the government proposes to make ‘unauthorised entry’ a criminal offence under the proposed amendments of the Regulation; on the other, it continues to allow movement of the people and vehicles into the Jarawa Reserve through the Andaman Trunk Road.

    In February 2012, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released ‘Norms for Protection of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and Initial Contact of the Amazon Region, Gran Chaco and Oriental Region of Paraguay’. These are in line with the India’s Supreme Court order and encourage governments to allow isolated communities to remain on their own without any contact with the outside world.

    Sadly, today, extinction of ‘human races’ such as the Jarawas is not on the same priority as the extinction of the major specifies like the ‘tigers’. India must not only close the Andaman Trunk Road but regularly review policies and programmes relating to nearly extinct indigenous tribal communities. The 2012 Regulation must provide for monitoring bodies and submission of implementation reports.

    Chakma is director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights.
    [email protected]


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    Posted on 08 June 2012
 

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