The Jarawas are perhaps the most written about tribal community of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Since the Great Andaman Trunk Road was built, cutting their forest homeland into two, the Andaman administration has faced calls to close down the road. Today, many Jarawas roam the forests wearing shirts and trousers, and, according to the Member of Parliament from Andaman, they now want mobile phones and schools.
A good number of Jarawa youths know Hindi, and some of them even speak a bit of Tamil. Many of them know Bollywood songs and some also demand tobacco from outsiders. Still, the Jarawas are more or less shielded from the outside world and most of their contacts with outsiders take place only under the observation of experts.
Happiest and the most advanced
With a population of about 20,000, the Nicobari tribal community is perhaps the most advanced on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Many from the community have become top-level officials in the Andaman and Nicobar administration, and some are doctors and prominent businessmen.
Regardless of what others write about them, the people of Andaman and Nicobar consider the Nicobari tribal community as the most cheerful and happy group on the islands, having talented sportspersons and musicians. Even after bearing the brunt of the 2004 tsunami, the small tribal community has thrived and proved its resilience.
Civilised in their own way
The Sentinelese tribes are still hostile to outsiders and attack anyone going close to their Island, the Sentinel Island. The Onges live in a small part of Little Andaman, called Dugong Creek, and the Shompen tribal group, which has a small population, lives on Great Nicobar Island. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are blessed to have many tribal communities living here.
The world needs to learn to respect their privacy and leave them alone, as efforts to make the tribals mingle with the outside world have only brought them disease and misery. We can observe them from a distance, learn from them and accept that they are civilized in their own way. After all, in their world there is no war and almost no crime.
The Great Andamanese were once the largest tribal group in the Andaman Islands, but after they came in contact with the civilized world during British rule, and following efforts to ‘civilize’ them, their population dwindled and they now number only about 50, and live on a small Island called Strait Island.
Sanjib Kumar Roy
Our correspondent in Andaman and Nicobar Islands