From dangerous to endangered:
Jarawa"primitives" and welfare politics
in the Andaman Islands
by Dr. Vishvajit Pandya
Table of Contents
Vishvajit Pandya gained his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Anthropology and has continued research in various parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia. He has taught in the USA and New Zealand. At present he holds a professorship at the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, nr. Indroda Circle, Gandhinagar 282007, Gujarat, India. PandyaV@yahoo.com
First published on this web site
© 2007 Prof. Vishvajit Pandya
The Jarawa are a "primitive" tribal group of the Andaman Islands. They are significant in respect of welfare issues and particularly in relation to changes caused by the Andaman Trunk Road that cuts through their tribal reserve and that has had a major impact on the tribal community. Before and after the tsunami of December 2004 much attention has been paid to the issue of what should and could be be done in view of the changing situation that the Jarawas face. This paper questions the social construct of change for the Jarawas and relates this to this how their welfare has been conceptualized. Utilizing recent ethnographic data, the paper presents the changes that have come about due to interaction of tribal and non-tribal communities. It raises the question as to what kind of welfare is needed in the face of the unique real as opposed to the Jarawas' imagined position
After the tsunami of December 2004, the sole elected member for the Andaman Nicobar Islands in the Indian parliament, Mr. Manoranjan Bhakta, presented the administration of the islands with a list of demands. Among the issues on which the MP demanded action three issues were related to the "Primitive Tribal Group" known as Jarawas. In order to evaluate the reality on the ground and the validity of the welfare measures that could be taken for the group, it was decided that some kind of "ethnographic survey" could be conducted among about three hundred Jarawa tribals
I have been involved with the tribal cultures of the Andaman Islands since 1983 and specifically with ethnographic observations of Jarawas since 1996. The Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS, the tribal welfare office of the island administration) asked me to investigate the state of the Jarawas and present my observations. I was directed primarily to determine if the Jarawa hunter-gatherers needed attention, and to investigate if the group had experienced changes that required welfare measures. At the administration's invitation, in November of 2005 I started my field study.
The basic intent of the study was to investigate the points raised in the petition drawn up by the MP about significant changes in Jarawa behavior and their wxpressed desire to connect to "mainstream society". For me, the larger question was to find out how the status of Jarawa as a designated "Primitive Tribal Group" was contrary to the MP's keenness to bring them out of their protected isolation. My concern was for how others represented the Jarawas and, how the Jarawas presented themselves to others, an interaction that had developed through everyday interactions. and experiences.The study therefore needed to take two points of view into account: that of the constituency represented by the MP, and that of the Jarawa themselves, if the Jarawas are to be acknowledged as agents of their own history and if their objectification as "Primitives" is to be challenged.
The Jarawa were exposed to the outside world and its pressures from the start of the colonial times in the mid-19th century. They coped with these pressures on their own terms (see Cipriani 1959, Fawcett 1912, Hellard 1861, Man 1932, Mann 1973, Mukhopadhyay 2002:174-186, Pandya 1998, 2002a, Portman 1899, Radcliffe-Brown 1964, Singh 1973, Temple 1903). It is facile to regard them as a community unable to cope with change, or to see them as an "unspoiled pristine society" that needs to be "saved"1.
1. In 1908-10, the British anthropologist, Radcliffe-Brown commenting on the Jarawas made the following observations: "At the present day there is only one body of the Andamanese still persistently hostile and these are so called Jarawas of the interior of the South Andamans. These Jarawas, since about 1870 have made repeated attacks on isolated parties of convicts and forest workers and on the friendly Andamanese. Punitive expeditions have been sent against them on several occasions, and attempts to set up friendly relations with them have been made by leaving presents in the huts, and by capturing some of them and keeping them for a time at Port Blair. At present time the Jarawas are as hostile as ever" (Radcliffe-Brown 1964:10-11).
The early history of Jarawa hostility towards outsiders was brought to a gradual end by a series of friendly contacts by the Indian administration which continued till 1998-99 when the Jarawa community on its own came in close sustained contact with the outside world. Despite the changing trajectories of the history of contact between Jarawas and outsiders, what remains significantly unchanged are perceptions of the Jarawa from colonial to post-colonial times. The most dramatic changes experienced by the Jarawa is the ever-increasing non-tribal population around their Reserve Forest. In the last three years I have been drawn into the administration and government concern with the Jarawas, particularly how and what should be done about the Jarawas, designated as a "primitive tribal group"2.
2. As part of my ongoing academic interest in the history and politics of the Islands, I am aware of the complex discursive issues involved in policies of welfare vis-à-vis Tribal Groups in India, but I will restrict my concerns in this paper to the more vexed issue of the pressures of local politics on the functioning of welfare agencies in relation to the "primitives" of the of Andaman Islands.
This paper has emerged from considerations of political and administrative concerns to provide "welfare" to the Jarawa. The Jarawa had in the recent past been regarded by non-tribals as dangerous but now are regarded as endangered. Some of the ideas presented here are the outcome of asking questions: what changes and welfare ideas do the Jarawa as well as the non-tribals experience and articulate, and this especially since 1999 in the context of transformed relations between the ttwo groups. Why and how has "change" been denied to "primitives" - and why did the non-tribals then seek to impose a structured framework of "change and welfare" upon the Jarawa? Is there any scope granted to the Jarawa in the reserve territory 3 to connect to mainstream society on their own terms?
3. The Jarawa reserve territory is a protected area for aboriginal tribes and was created 30 June 1956 by government notification No.76/56. Primarily, it restricted entry of non-tribals to the designated tribal reserve area. In September 1991 additional coastal areas were also brought under protective regulation. In September 2004 (No.159/2004/F.No 1-752/2002-TW PF) the Jarawa reserve territory was further expanded to accommodate the growing needs of the Jarawas and control the presence of the non-tribals in the Jarawa area.
Questions and concerns were presented to tribals as well as non-tribals in the area of Kadamtalla where the designated Jarawa territory and settlers' villages (with some encroachments) are so close that only the 25 ft wide (Andaman Trunk Road separates the two groups. The close proximity and historically regular contacts between Jarawa and settlers makes the small town of Kadamtalla and the villages scattered around it particularly conducive to research work4. Series of interviews with residents of Kadamtalla area made me realize the sharp changes in local attitudes towards the Jarawa during the past four years. These attitudes were shaped by factors such as the nature of the contact with the Jarawa in the post-1998 period, the role played by local welfare agencies, the changing economic needs of the local population and, of course, by the enduring beliefs about the savage and the civilized.
4. Uttara jetty in the Kadamtalla area acquired great importance as in 1997. It was there that the Jarawa first came out of their jungles to seek self-motivated non-hostile contact with outsiders. Previously, the Jarawa thad frequently attacked non-tribals in the Kadamtalla area.
How can welfare become so controversial in a democratic context in which it is not clear who decides what for whom?5
5. Since the tsunami of December 2004, attention has been focused on the changes the islands have experienced. The "traditional knowledge" of the Jarawa was seen as a way for making the survival of a "primitive tribal group" possible during in a major natural disaster while continuing to live in the isolated forest. The tsunami and its multifaceted impact in the islands was covered by the media and made people more aware of tribal cultures, the rich bio-diversity, the environment and levels of governmental and non-governmental activity in an area far removed from the average Indian's imagination or concerns. Consequently, the Jarawa were re-positioned in relation to an administration that had managed to keep them out of national and international consciousness.
A petition for the "primitive" and concern for the Jarawa
On 19 June 2005 the Member of Parliament from the Andaman and Nicobar islands in his letter to the Lt. Governor of the Islands, titled "Non-fulfillment of Genuine demands" threatened to go on hunger strike from 6 July 2005 if his words went unheeded. The administration responded by promising to take the earliest possible action on his drawn-up list of demands. Many of the concerns raised by the MP were related to the general experience of the tsunami. Of particular anthropological interest were the issues related to the "Primitive Tribal Group" of the Jarawa. The Jarawas, who are thought to be among the "first people" of the islands, are today, an extremely marginalized minority (See Turner 1999), sustaining a precarious existence amidst an ever-increasing non-tribal (Indian) population numbering more than 500,000 settled all around the Jarawa reserve territory. The Jarawa tribal reserve itself spreads over two islands (South and Middle Andaman) that are connected by the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) of which 35 km cuts through the restricted reserve territory itself. The ATR also is the main arterial route that connects the capital, Port Blair in the extreme south to Diglipur and to the north of the islands.
The Andaman islands with the Andaman Trunk Road, Jarawa and Indian settlers' areas.
On the subject of the Andaman Trunk Road see also elsewhere on this web-site:
- George Weber's The Andaman Trunk Road
- Richa Dhanju's History of the Andaman Trunk Road (SANE Newsletter)
One of the primary concerns raised by the MP concerned the subsistence requirements of the Jarawa. He urged the administration to make sure that required food be provided to the tribal group so that, "they may not stray to the nearby settlement areas and wander on the roadside in search of food. Sufficient quantity of coconut and bananas should be made available at various locations where the Jarawa tribes are residing". Secondly, drawing attention to the policy of the Government in keeping the Jarawas in "secluded isolation" he asserted, that this was like keeping them as "museum pieces". This was, according to the MP, all the more ironical because of a totally different ground reality facing the Jarawa today. In his words "today we encounter Jarawa along the ATR as well as in many of the revenue villages... These Jarawa, as has been experienced, are very friendly, speak Hindi very fluently and regularly visit the local inhabitants for food. It has also been observed that a group of about 80 Jarawa who regularly visit the Tirur area are so friendly with the people that a few of the Jarawa children recently approached the local teacher for admission in the school as they had observed other children studying in the school".
Making what are perhaps the right observations and endorsed by his constituency, the MP's list nonetheless reveals a contradiction when it tries to make the assertion that given the observed facts about the Jarawa interaction with the settlers, it could be concluded that the Jarawa had reached "a certain degree of assimilation into the mainstream of society". The point that emerges on closer inspection is that what the MP was seeking for the Jarawas was the basic entitlement of a citizen based not on "dole" but on a "gradual self sustaining arrangement". To me, the contradiction lies in the curious logic of the demand. The Administration is first asked to provide "sufficient quantity of coconut and bananas" and then make a policy intervention that has the orientation of "gradual self sustaining basis". The question that immediately poses itself relates to the settler's perspective of how and what kind of future the Jarawas truly deserve.
Related to this perception is the other demand made by the MP vis-à-vis the ATR. Following a long controversy pre-dating the tsunami, the MP reiterated hise position on the need for the ATR to continue. On 19th June 2005 a letter from the MP, Mr. Bhakta, sole elected representative from the islands (Jarawas are not included in the electoral list so far) argued against closure of ATR. He said:
" Keeping in view the unimaginable ramifications on the livelihood and the economy of the people of South, Middle and North Andaman. The Jarawa tribes from time immemorial were hostile and the Administration has spent millions and millions on account of making them friendly. . . at this stage event if we close down the ATR the very same Jarawas may not return to the inaccessible forests where there is scarcity of food. . . So, in my opinion, in the name of protecting the Jarawa, . . . the ATR should be expanded for smooth operation of the vehicles plying between Port Blair and Diglipur and vice-versa".
Mr. Bhakta's position on the ATR when read in conjunction with the issue of the future of the Jarawa as citizens of modern India raises the issue of changes in Jarawa behavior and hence change in Jarawa policy in a more instructive manner. For questions that lurk behind the assertion on the need for the continuity and expansion of the road is: can the Jarawas who seem to be ceaselessly moving in and out of the forest, along the road and into the settler villages be made to move towards a stage of society that the non-tribals have visualized for them? Does increased visibility and mobility on the road automatically indicate Jarawa aspirations to assimilate with the lifestyles, habits and thoughts of settlers? Mr. Bhakta's reading of Jarawa behavior does point out the necessity of looking at this issue with great care.
If one had to put a date on the so-called "change" in Jarawa behavior, it would be 1998. That year saw the end of the Jarawa's avoidance of and, outright hostility towards the "outsiders". But would it be possible to plot the meaning of this change on an evolutionary map that interprets the Jarawa presence on the ATR and the incursions into nearby villages as logical steps in a process leading to eventual assimilation? Struck by the rhetorical strength of the MPs assertions and the seemingly first-hand accounts of the reality on the ground that his exhortations embodied, I decided to go beyond the discursive confines of his petition to meet and talk to the people whom he represented. Implicit in the concern for the future of the Jarawas as modern Indian citizens is issue of changes in Jarawa behavior and hence change in Jarawa policy. Settlers since early colonial times were afraid to enter and exploit the forest, as Jarawa were perceived as hostile. However, since 2000 the very perception of the Jarawa as being "friendly" or "non-hostile" has made the Jarawa and the forests in theJarawa reserve territory much more susceptible to outsiders' intrusion and subject to various exploitative practices. This has made settlers and politicians dream of an easy and rapid shift of Jarawa from hunting to cultivation and eventually to participation in industrialized capitalist production. The expectation is that Jarawas assisted by welfare agency would be pushed on an accelerated track of transformation, even if it were a unilateral exercise of social engineering (Cf Awaradi 1990: 146-180, Naidu 1999). The end of hostilities, greater "interaction" with the settlers and the "desire to go to school" can be read as a series of graduated steps that in a sense mark the culmination of the grand teleology of modernity marked by a strange ambiguity. It is the ambiguous positioning of the Jarawa as a valued 'Primitive Tribal Group' and as aspiring modern Indian citizens - both positions created by the non-tribal's historical perspective6.
6. The constitutionally endorsed notion of 'Tribal reserve' (Article 243, Clause 2 June 1956) guaranteed protection to a tribal culture by judiciary and administrative power in a 'non-interference' and 'non imposition' manner. However, in 1975, for the further protection of the Jarawa, the central Government of India allocated a budget and formed the Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS) or "Andaman Primitive Tribal Welfare Association", within the administration of the Union territory of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. AAJVS was to take care exclusively of the future of the "primitive" tribes on the islands" (AAJVS 1977, Krishnatry 1976, Sharma 1981). The small size of the Jarawa population and their hunting and foraging way of life made them unique and quite different from other tribal cultures of India - the term "adim" (primitive) is significant. The then prime minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, saw this program for the 'primitive' as a special priority within the general process of modernization of the islands. The role of AAJVS was to oversee a number of measures and processes with the stated objectives of protecting and promoting developments seen as essential for survival and growth (Krishnatry 1976:25). Particularly for the 'primitive tribe' of the Jarawa it as was seen as an important tool for dealing with the problems generated by the 1956 Regulation of Aboriginal Protection Act (AAJVS 1976) on which the project of the ATR through the Jarawa reserve forest was based.
Visiting the ATR: the road into history
I decided to travel along the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) to Kadamtalla, a rural area on the fringes of the Jarawa Reserve Territory and which was an active centre for welfare practices.
In 1999 Ms.Shyamali Ganguly had seen Jarawas begging on the ATR. She filed a PIL (WP) No 048-under article 226 of the Constitution of India, entered in the High Court of Calcutta, jurisdiction Circuit bench at Port Blair (Pandya 2002a). Ms. Ganguly wanted to find out why some Jarawa strayed outside the forest, asking for food from tavellers on the ATR 7. The mere visibility of (naked) Jarawa outside the forest was presented as a problem . On 4 April 2000 the court ordered an expert committee to look into the issue of what was seen as a significant change in Jarawa behavior (Pandya 1999, 2002).
7. It is significant to note the homology of events experienced by the MP in 2005 and what Ms Ganguly reported in 1999. In spite of the five-year difference the observations and reactions of two individuals are identical, leading to investigations of Jarawa culture.
Jarawa youth showing off his new body adornment: sunglasses somehow acquired from the ATR roadside.
Jarawa group on the ATR, waiting for the next convoy to pass by.
Yet another Jarawa group on ATR, waiting for the next convoy to pass by.
The expert committee (Andaman and Nicobar Information 2003) debated the issue of preserving the Jarawa as they were, trying not to facilitating the process of change they were evidently experiencing. As a result of discussions and seminars, a policy was adopted (Notification 21 December 2004) which ironically did not say anything about closing the ATR. The committee did not accept change in Jarwaculture as inevitable wanted to keep the tribe in isolation and protected from outside influences. The court and its decision to undertake a study assumed that a tribal group like the Jarawa should not have come out of the forest and entered into a contact with the outside world. Emphasis was on the Jarawa to be confined to the reserve territory. It was assumed that their "coming out" of the jungle was due to a shortage of resources or "anxiety". Most of the members of the expert committee in their individual submissions and deliberations presented views on what should be done to keep the Jarawas confined within a fortified and insulated Jarawa reserve territory. The thrust of the expert committee report which did not come to any consensus, about how to facilitate the inevitable process of change the Jarawas were evidently experiencing8.
8. The expert committee was constituted of Government administrators and the only anthropological input was from the Anthropological Survey of India represented by a physical anthropologist.
Among the experts it was taken for granted that "some day" the Jarawa would be prepared to establish contact with the outside world - but not right away. The principal idea of the new Jarawa Policy (Andaman and Nicobar Gazette. No. 210. 21 December 2004) was to keep the Jarawa in a state of "protection" in their cultural identity, natural habitat and health. They were regarded as a "unique human heritage". One of the stated objectives was "to protect the Jarawa from harmful effects of exposure and contact with the outside world while they are not physically, socially, and culturally prepared for such interfacing".
Against the backdrop of the MP's letter to the Andaman administration, let us consider some of the ethnographic observations and narratives of non-tribal settlers and Jarawa which reflect the changes that have taken place since the Court order dated 9 April 2001 that lead to the formation of and study undertaken by the Jarawa expert committee.
An anthropologist on the ATR
Traveling on the winding, bumpy ATR in a jeep from Port Blair to Kadamtalla, going through the Jarawa reservation was a trip I had grown used to since 1997. The old signboards along the road were still standing, reminding me of changes inJarawa policies and how these policies had been quite unconnected to the history of the non-tribal populations.
Signboard at the entry point to the Jarawa reserve, giving instructions to travellers using the Andaman Trunk Road with specific reference to Jarawas.
Signboard in the road construction office at Mile-Tilak. It shows the names of the local employees killed in Jarawa attacks during road construction.
Relatives of the settlers killed often visit the signboard and leave floral offerings to mark the anniversary of the deaths.
Each bump and turn on the road was a reminder for me of the jerky trajectory of the Jarawa history, the impact of various court orders, expert study teams that changed the very context of understanding the Jarawa. Since the Expert Committee conducted the first count of the Jarawa population in 2003 (then thought to be to be 266), the Jarawa population has increased to 305. The authorities have extended the area of the Jarawa Reserve. Some superfluous police outposts and Forest department camps within the reservearea have also been removed. Moreover, there has been a perceptible decline in the number of tourists visiting the Jarawa along the roadside, mot least those groups organised by tour operators. On the other hand, daily maintenance work on the ATR by outside labor has increased.
As the jeep slowed down at various spots along the road because of maintenance work in progress, I made enquiries with the overseers of such work. They estimated that each day between 150 to 200 casual contract labourers were working on the road within the Jarawa reserve. On the four-hour stretch of road from Port Blair to Kadamtalla, the conduct of the labourers is not monitored9. To deal with outsiders on the ATR within the Jarawa territory, police and staff from the AAJVS stand at selected spots to make sure that in case of a Jarawa group coming to the road, the visitors are either quickly moved back into the forest or put into vehicles and taken away. The aim is to minimize the interactions between tribals and non-tribals.The court-ordered Jarawa policy has not been easy to maintain, not least because the reasons behind the Jarawa pattern of migration and its cultural background is still not understood10.
9. Jarawa in the Poona Nallah region of the ATR are not only are given chewing tobacco but also religious medallions of Hindu gods and goddesses on a metal chains . These items were handed out by labourers working on the ATR. Jarawa call the amulets "bhabhachey" (a corruption of the word "Bhagvanjee", i.e. "God"). In the past, a Jarawa group in the Mayabunder region has also received Christian crosses. "Christ" as a name is pronounced there as "Jesuk" for "Jesus".
10. The Jarawa come to the roadside for many reasons (Pandya 2002a) and the management of Jarawa visibility has become a major responsibility of the AAJVS. Moreover, the AAJVS has also been charged with making the Jarawa "visible" to (i.e. available for inspection by) VIPs. It is regrettable that despite all efforts to manage Jarawa visibility, chaos and disorder prevail . No systematic effort has ever been made to understand the Jarawa pattern of migration.
It is a difficult situation when the Jarawa understand the Hindustani language imposed on them while welfare workers continue to use a limited understanding of the Jarawa language and culture. What is remarkable is that the Jarawa clearly know how to use the road and the administration's workers to their own advantage. They often find ways to be moved to places they want to go to. The administration is happy to oblige since doing so makes the Jarawas "not visible" and therefore protected from "outside interaction" - as ordered by the the court. Jarawa now have a new meaning for the road and administration. The Jarawa no longer loiter on the roadside, waiting for charity from passing people. They now allow themselves to be photographed against payment in kind. The ATR has changed the Jarawa and made them conscious that they are objects of discipline for the administration or commodities for gawking tourists in search of the "exotic" in the Andamans. This understanding has helped them to negotiate situations involving outsiders with increasing confidence. Since Indian independence, ther Jarawa have been recipients of gifts intended to change their hostility to friendliness. This desire to make the Jararwa more "friendly" has been motivated by the interests of non-tribals for whom an operational ATR was a significant investment in the the island's political and economic development (Acharya 2002). Records indicate a decline in the frequency of Jarawa coming in contact with outsiders. Most reported cases of such contact now are related to Jarawa seeking medical attention for what they regard as "enen ulatey" (outsider-given pain, i.e. disease). Jarawa seeking medical help are moved to the local medical establishments at once. It is no longer a situation of outsiders trying to convince Jarawa to come out and seek medical assistance. They do so willingly at their own initiative (Pandya 2005b). In areas such as Tirur, settlers have also become confident enough to interact with the Jarawas without any mediation. They often provide the Jarawa with food in return for items like fish and crabs gathered from the creeks in the vicinity out of good-will and compassion.
The apparently easy interaction on the ATR and on the fringes of the Jarawa reserve forest has had major implications on another level. As fear of the Jarawa (until recently seen as unpredictable and hostile) has declined in last three years, there has been an increase in the number of poachers making illegal incursions into the Jarawa reserve forest from both the eastern land as well as the western coastal side. Sucvh poaching remains an important point of contention between the Jarawa, the welfare agencies and the settlers, some of whom are directly involved in these illegal practices. In other words, the ATR as a facilitator of interaction between tribals and the settlers is being constantly undermined by its role as abettor of exploitation and criminal activities.
It needs to be acknowledged that despite the myriad pressures, it may not be possible to shut off the ATR passing through the Jarawa reserve territory. In spite of the negative impact of the ATR protect and preserve the Jarawa as a pristine cultural "heritage" group. Closure of the ATR or any designated segment of it may not be a practical possibility as the issue would involve the contending claims of a small tribal community and a larger number of tax paying citizens who are politically articulate. The environmentalists have rightly argued that some of the best-preserved forests on Andaman Islands are within the Jarawa territory (Sekhsaria 2004) and consequently by protecting the Jarawa the forest, too, would be preserved11.
11. Perhaps it is a romantic assumption that the Jarawas will continue to live in harmony with nature, preserving the forest that has for countless milennia been their home. Politicians and settlers, keen on 'integrating' the Jarawas, would in future, like to drive Jarawas down the ATR to the nearest polling booth where they could cast their votes for the political party that promises them the most, as members of "primitive" tribal groups do all over India. Maybe that Jarawa children could also take a bus ride on ATR to their school.
The Jarawa today are precariously placed in a socio-cultural context that is in flux. The transformations that now face them have arguably been brought about by the Jarawa themselves, by the non-tribal communities, by the administration and its agencies, as much as by a range of international interest groups, NGOs and the media. The Jarawa situation today is being articulated at its strongest in response to the shifting dynamics between the Jarawa community and the outsiders. Jarawa visitations to settlements, in spite of a reported statistical decline12 provide the context for a whole range of changes between tribals, settlers and authorities. These 'interactions' rather than 'contact events' between the three today drive the continuing change.
12.In 1998 the total number of times Jarawa came out of the forest to interact with the outside world was 172 times. In 2005 they came out only 16 times.
Shifting historical positions in Kadamtalla
Moving northwards from Baratang Island,the entry point into Middle Andaman is Uttara Jetty. From here, the ATR brings you into the sleepy little town of Kadamtalla, This town has grown from settlers brought to the area in groups since 1952-53, mainly from what is now Bangladesh. Each family was allotted about 40,000 sq yards to clear and cultivate. The settlers set up villages of five or six families within the Kadamtalla area and expanded with basic administrative structures and services being added.As the settlement grew, more forest was cleared and Jarawa found themselves increasingly confined to the hilly ranges around Western Kadamtalla. The Jarawas resisted violently any atempts by settlers to enter their territory. They also frequently raided the small settlements in the Kadamtalla region. In order to pacify the Jarawa on the eastern side of Kadamtalla, the administration continued the colonial practice of dropping gifts and staging what was called "Friendly Jarawa contact expeditions" on ther western coast (Pandya 1998, 1999). For the first time, Jarawa visited Uttara jetty in daylight and without any apparent hostile intentions in 1998. Ever since they have regularly visited the settlements13. Apart from Kadamtalla, Jarawas were coming out all along the ATR. Settlers resented such incursions and urged the state welfare agency to provide protection. The AAJVS was seen as the controller of the Jarawa with authority to arbitrate between settlers and Jarawa The settlers demanded immediate protection for their women - the sight of "naked Jarawas carrying cutting blades" on the village streets was perceived as a threat. When the AAJVS was seen to be failing in this, the villagers frequently threatened to block traffic on the ATR to protest against the welfare organization's reluctance to "control" the Jarawa.
13. The Jarawa man, Enmey, who was captured near Kadamtalla and confined for treatment in Port-Blair, said that this early contact hadbeen staged by the Jarawa themselves. He was discharged after six months and sent back to the forests (Pandya 2002a). The 'contact event' of Enmey was not an isolated event. Records show that in the past we did have 'Jarawa captured' and 'Jarawa released with gifts' (Sarkar1989) events. Towards the late 1990s the ATR made it possible for the Jarawas to give up the hostility and self-selected isolation.
From the feeling of threat until 2000, to the MP's letter in 2005 arguing for incorporation of the Jarawa into the mainstream of life in the Andamans there was a major shift in feeling. The shift originated from the settlers who had arrived at different times but but were historically all recipients of administrative assistance for settling on the islands. They had been refugees and had to get assimilated in a settlers' colony with the help of a welfare agency.
The settlers had an internalized image of colonization and now transposed that same image to the issue of settling the Jarawa as way "dealing" with them. Until the year 2000, the average settler saw the Jarawa as a problem that had to be dealt with by the administration, particularly in the light of the 1999 court case Ganguly vs. the Union of India. What was questioned was the visibility of the Jarawas and the condition they lived under. Most of the settlers felt that the Jarawa were in a miserable predicament and should be removed from their original locations and made to settle elsewhere. This seemed a similar solution to that applied to the Great Andamanese who had been re-settled on Strait Island. As the settlers realized, moving the Jarawa was not possible (part of the declared Jarawa Policy No 210 of 21 December 2004), they sought to reformulate the terms of the Jarawa problem by suggesting that what lay at the root of their misery was essentially that they were hungry. Settlers feel strongly that only part of the forest should be given to the Jarawa for plantation of various cash crops, with the remaining reserve forest to be made available to the growing number of settlers who continue to face economic hardship due to limited land and jobs. The habits and cultural pattern of Jarawa should be altered to insure their health and for this purpose it is seen as essential that they should stay put in villages created for them with clean water supplies and standard medical facilities.
Today (2005-06) the settlers still feel that "hunger" is the main problem and that dependence on forest resources is not enough 14. They feel that "corruption" in the AAJVS and the policy of withdrawing the provision of rations to Jarawas was "no good"! What is perhaps remarkable is the growing feeling among the settlers that instead of removing or relocating Jarawas they should have land to be allocated to them as "villages" within the reserve territory so that they can be made to "settle down".
14. Bengali settlers express this as: "on seeing Jarawas one is overwhelmed by pity, after all they also have hunger and concerns so they come to us for charity and the Government should give them" (Jarawa der dekhey bhishon maya hoye! Uder o petey khedey achey tayee joney ora akhon ama der kachey neetey ashey! Sarkar ke oder deya ucheet)
One has to consider tthe perception underlying the settlers' understanding of the Jarawa problem. After all, the idea of the MP (himself a settler) to make Jarawa attend school, is also his and his constituency's perception that Jarawas are now ready to be part of an institution of a modern nation state, i.e. of school. This seems to be the majority view but not everybody agrees. The younger son of a settler in Kadamtalla, a schoolteacher, for instance said "most kids come to school for the free lunch service and not for any other noble cause of learning. If this is the case for settlers would it not be so for Jarawa children, too?" (Personal interview with Manik Pramanik 11 Deccember 2005). On asking a small gathering of Jarawas who had seen the school in Phooltolla (a village eight minutes drive north of Kadamtalla), if they would like their children to attend a school, their reaction was slow and thoughtful. They said "you and your children constantly rely on doing something with paper, look at you (the anthropologist in this context) are listening and working on paper. Our children do not need to do so, they need to know about finding and locating things in the forest. It is work! It has to be learned!" On posing the question to the young students of Phooltalla school how they would feel about having some Jarawa children in the classroom the response I got was amazing yet expected. Manik, a nine year old boy, took the lead and said "but how will they sit with us, the teacher does not know the Jarawa language but if they do come will they sit quietly? We may want to go with them and wander about in their forest that is across the road!"
Given the present form and structure of schooling available to the people of the rural Andamans it is not conceivable to simply bring Jarawa children into what is generally regarded as schooling - a social institution managed by the state. It is important that we do not think of school as just an institution that teaches standard reading, writing and counting. It should be seen as a larger pedagogical context where 'we' first learn how Jarawa culture teaches itself. What ways do Jarawas have to facilitate the process of learning from seniors so that each junior individual becomes a functional member of society (See Pandya 2005). Some of the Jarawa, on being told that some day Jarawa children would have to work closely with outsiders and work to keep their place in the forest, were either incredulous or unconvinced. But what was emphasized by the Jarawa elders was that the "younger boys are not very keen to continue with the work in the forest". In the course of our finding out how Jarawas teach and learn, we need to think of creating a restructured school that would prepare and build the capacity among Jarawas to cope and deal with the coming changes. What could be the start would be a casual learning and teaching program within the Jarawa community that would collect and observe the learning practices among the Jarawa. In due course the experience collected can be used to impart awareness of issues and options so that Jarawas and their younger children can learn and exercise from choices made by them for their own community. Settler insistence upon starting schools for the Jarawas on their own models may be commended as a gesture of sensitivity but a closer look at the intent of the proposal reveals the reality of a relationship based on hostility, fear and misunderstanding.
In spite of shifting grand visions and concerns for the Jarawas, settlers also sometimes show acute lack of sensitivity to the Jarawa's perceptions of their own needs. Some settlers seem completely oblivious of the fact that what belongs to the Jarawa is not just the forest territory but also the right to own certain material possessions. For example the incident that happened on 16 of April 2005: settlers destroyed honey stored by Jarawa at Philip Nallah within their reserve territory. In retaliation Jarawa entered Forest valley (Report of Tribal Welfare Officer, AAJVS Kadamtalla, 26 April 2005) and "looted gold ornaments, cash, watches, clothes, and utensils from 17 houses" (Office of the Superintendent of Police, Andaman District No.R/153/05/1879, 21 April 2005). Retaliation by Jarawa as well as settlers is a typical interaction that has been going on since the colonial days when "punitive expeditions" were mounted against the Jarawa (Fawcett 1912, Temple 1903). What has changed today is that Jarawa and settlers, both are citizens of free India. The police recovered some material from the Jarawa (Report of Tribal Welfare Officer, AAJVS, Kadamtalla 26t April 2005) but no action is on record for loss caused to the Jarawa by the settlers. It is also rumored that the settlers' houses that were looted by Jarawa actually had bootlegging stilts. Ironically that this was the real property damaged by the Jarawa. More questionable are the allegations that imply the Jarawa had prior knowledge of the valuables to be stolen.
There is another dimension to the so-called "looting and disorderly Jarawa behavior". On 25 November 2005 at Phooltalla one settler is known to have persuaded a group of passing Jarawas to take bananas and coconut from a garden not his own but his neighbour's. This kind of incident indicates that the settlers misuse the Jarawa and instigate them to create problematic situations. Settlers do concede that entering the Jarawa forest for "illegal hunting and gathering" is a reality, but they feel that they have to do so in order to supplement their meager cash reserves, particularly in a situation when earning a decent wage (e.g. in a government job) is not easy to find. However, it should not be construed that most settlers exploit the Jarawa reserve forest. An estimated 10% of the settler population is known to be involved in selling 50 to 80 kilos of game meat illegally derived from the reserve forest and sold in the market. Settlers from the Phooltolla area have reported that in last year when the settlers were setting up their traps, they were confronted by Jarawa in the reserve territory who ook away the traps and in broken Hindustani warned that "if we see you again here with traps we will cut off your ears". Phooltolla residents see this as a serious threat from the unpredictable Jarawa. It is an interesting development, even if it renews fears of Jarawa hostility. It also indicates that the Jarawa have acquired a fairly clear idea about what may not be permissible in the designated Jarawa territory. Settlers have been historically articulating the impact of Jarawas moving out into their territory while the combined administrative departmental forces have been unable to restrict settlers moving into the Jarawa reserve forest for illegal purposes. In these changing times, the Jarawa seem to have begun to realize that the reserve territory is their land and territory. What has gone unnoticed and unacknowledged is that Jarawas now have no inhibitions in apprehending poachers of outside origin, particularly in Lewis Bay area (near Mayabunder at the northernmost limit of the Jarawa reserve territory) and handing them to the nearby Police camp (e.g. incident of mid December 2005). While this illustrates Jarawa eagerness to assert their territorial rights, there is a reported incident, which reveals their ability to distinguish between what could be regarded as "innocent" as opposed to "motivated" entries into the reserve area. In 2001, it is reported that the Jarawa helped a "disturbed" old lady from the settler community near Kadamtalla who had lost her way in the forest: the Jarawa who found her carried her back to the settlement!
Even if the the Jarawa recognize that settlers live near the fringes of the forest, they have not displayed any desire to live within what they perhaps perceive as "settler's territory". The case of the Kadamtalla medical facility is instructive here: when Jarawa are admitted to the medical facility, group members visit them with traditional food items and are observed to be concerned about the possible time of their release. Unlike the Great Andamanese who like to maximize time in Port Blair, the Jarawas want to return to their homes as quickly as possible. After observing this behaviour, the Kadamtalla Jarawas were asked whether they would some day like to stay permanently in the settlement. The group from the coastal camp in Lakra Lungta emphatically insisted that "to live in the settlement would deny tus to feel the changing seasons and winds, and consequent changes in the range of food available in the forest. Settlers just sit in one place and it is no good".
It is beyond doubt that Jarawa are conscious of "our territory" and have developed a clear, remarkable and increasing sense of "our forest", a sense that is communicated to outsiders by the actions they take. It brought me to the realization that the issue of territory is articulated differently by different groups of non-tribals as well as Jarawas from colonial to post-independent India. It was not a dialogue among themselves but a sequence of shifting assertions about tribals and non-tribals. The easy way for the welfare agency has been to deny a history of communication between tribals and non-tribals. For AAJVS the policing of boundaries as the principal method to protect the Jarawa makes the philosophy and practice of welfare into a problem. The welfare agency deliberately has turned a blind eye to the communication that has developed over a period of time. The Jarawa are no longer dangerous and hostile, settlers are eager to mainstream the Jarawa for greater economic advantage. For the administration, the Jarawa are still endangered. As the Andaman Trunk Road continues in operation, the "primitives" need to be protected and should be provided for, to uphold the state's grand concern for the minority and marginal, by spending only one third of the allocated resources on the islands' five designated "Primitive Tribal Groups". Over-bureaucratization and mismanagement reinforce the belief that primitive Jarawas need not and cannot change, and that "we" will protect them from change! (Andaman and Nicobar Administration 2003, Andaman and Nicobar Administration 2004,Awradi 1990). There has never really been any effort to understand change as it is perceived and articulated by, and within the Jarawa community.
My preliminary reading of the responses of the MP's constituency brought me to the realization that the MP's petition was as much the result of local economic grievances as it was of local perceptions of the state's policy of tribal welfare and the related issue of entitlements. It was clear from the settler's point of view that the fundamental issue was one of unfair resource allocation. "Why were so many crores of rupees being spent on a such small group of people and more importantly why was it being spent to protect and perpetuate their state of 'primitiveness'?" The Jarawa could not be sustained as merely a 'Primitive Tribal Groups' or what Nehru regarded as "exhibits in the Human Zoo" (Elwin 1961, 1973). Keeping in mind the experience and history of the post-independence Andaman islands, we have to be careful not to make the Jarawa into a "dole dependent community". Jarawa are no more just a group of "primitive hunters and gatherers", they recognize and acknowledge their precarious position and can articulate their community's needs and concerns and could utilize the welfare agencies to suit their requirements.
Jarawa at Lakra Lungta camp in discussions with the author, Dr. Pandya.
Conclusion: Changing notions of change
As I drove back from Kadamtalla towards Port Blair, I started to agonize over the possibility that the question raised by the settlers today could well be raised by the Jarawa tomorrow. It was time to perhaps consider the question whether the Jarawa would continue to allow themselves to be "protected" in the terms set out by the state and its welfare agencies.
To put this question to the providers of welfare is to make them confront an intractable dilemma. Welfare agencies may deny that in future the Jarawa community has to manage life on its own, in a way that does not erode or undermine the base of its culture. This particularly in the light of the Jarawa Policy formulated by the state (Andaman and Nicobar administration 2004), in which non-intervention was accepted as a working principle of welfare. While the philosophy of non-intervention may be applauded for the sake of argument, it becomes clear that when seen in the perspective of the state's opening up of the ATR through Jarawa territory, the intent of non-intervention appears severely flawed. Can there ever be any feasible policy of non-intervention when an intervention of such scale and intensity was imposed upon the Jarawa by the ATR? It is a question the state will find difficult to answer. A policy of protecting and perpetuating the Jarawa in their indigenous mode of survival has become a travesty as the foundations of that mode of survival are shaken andwill be destroyed forever. The policing of the ATR as a way of preserving the Jarawa as a prized "Primitive Tribal Group" symbolizes the dilemmas of a modernizing state keen to showcase the trajectory of its evolutionary graph while following the path of "development".
A way out of this impasse perhaps lies in following a policy of non-intervention, without precluding dialogue and acknowledgement of change. Settlers and the MP emphasize that with the growing interaction with the Jarawa a greater degree of Jarawa integration is desirable. The critical concern in this view is that who decides on behalf of the community as to the levels or directions of change acceptable to "primitives"? Is the state to become a mere "provider" to Jarawas? The state's concern for an endangered culture, and the need for "isolation" has made the welfare agency dangerously blind to the historical capacity of Jarawa to cope in situations where they are not in an idealized or imagined state of isolation. Has the idea of welfare become part of an empty self-perpetuating practice alien to both who receive it and those who pay for it? Neither politicians, nor court orders n we all should unilaterally impose change on the Jarawa. Insterad, all should focus on changing interactions involving the Jarawa. Today, the Jarawa are no more the "primitive group" that they have been historicized as. Instead, they are in a precarious position, in a sociocultural context that is in flux. The transformations that now face the Jarawa have arguably been brought about by the Jarawa themselves, together with the non-tribal communities of the Andamans, by the administration and its agencies, as well as by a range of interest groups. The focus on a continuous process - as opposed to sequence of contact events alone - can transcend the very construct of "primitive" and the place they have been given in our history.
It is not just a matter of arresting change but matter of understanding change from the point of view of the Jarawa. It is through interaction that the very object of knowledge of "primitive" has changed the Jarawa from being formerly being dangerous to presently being endangered. Our preconceived notions of welfare for "primitives" needs to be periodically questioned and applied in a non-hegemonic manner. Perhaps the MP and the welfare authorities will be skeptical about the idea that the real issue is to change the notion of change, not just the time for change among the Jarawas.
I would like to thank the Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS), Anup Mondal at Kadamtalla and the Andaman & Nicobar Island administration for making it possible to continue work among the Jarawa. I would like to thank Dr. Madhumita Mazumdar who has contributed much to the questions about the history of welfare in Andamanese culture.
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Last changed 2 June 2007