NEW DELHI: A Standing Committee of Parliament has said the endangered Jarawa tribals of the Andamans should be assimilated into the mainstream, but Andamans MP Bishnu Pada Ray says Congress president Sonia Gandhi is responsible for blocking such a move. “The parliamentary committee has made it clear that it is high time that the Jarawas are brought out of seclusion and made part of the mainstream. But there has been no forward since as Sonia Gandhi and her NGO friends are determined to block it,” says Ray, alluding to the National Advisory Council’s direction to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to consult the Jarawas before drafting any policy on their future.
According to Ray, who had written a controversial letter in 2010 where he had asked the ministry to “wean” Jarawa children away from the tribe in order to “drastically mainstream” them, he wants “children in the 6 to 12 age group to be weaned away from the tribe and be kept in a normal school atmosphere, where they are very quickly trained in personal hygiene, use of clothes and basic reading and writing skills.”
Ray asks who has given Sonia and the NAC the right to decide for the Jarawas. “When the Jarawas themselves have told the parliamentary committee that they want to come to the mainstream, what more do they want?” he asks. “What right does anyone have to say that the Jarawas should be kept as museum pieces? Like each one of us, they too have the right to fruits of modernity,” he says. Ray wants Jarawa assimilation at the earliest to ensure their survival against the “adverse effects of unregulated contacts with the mainstream”.
According to him, the number of Jarawas is dwindling every year due to unregulated contacts with outsiders. “Though they are leading an isolated life now officially, the reality is that they are becoming victims of illicit contacts with outsiders. They are also getting criminalised due to this. That is why I am arguing that they must be brought into the mainstream rather than leaving them at the mercy of intruders,” says Ray.
Experts, however, feel that the mainstreaming of Jarawas is more difficult than it looks. Most say that both arguments–assimilation and insulation—have their own merits and demerits. “There is no Yes or No answer for the question on whether the Jarawas should be brought to the mainstream or not. If retaining them as museum pieces is wrong, then sudden exposure is equally wrong,’’ said Dr A Justin, who heads the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) office in Port Blair. According to him, there has been no proper assessment of “what Jarawas want” so far and ASI is now in the process of doing it.
“No matter what, the most important thing to be remembered in the context of any primitive tribe is that they have their own stream of life. Modernisation or mainstreaming should not be from our point of view or perspective. It must be left to the Jarawas to decide what they want,” says the anthropologist.