Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Desist from the Temptation of Giving Jarawas a Strategy

The Light of Andamans - VOL 35 | ISSUE 22 | 16 DEC 2011

Desist from the Temptation of Giving Jarawas a Strategy

Manish Chandi, a research scholar working in these Islands since 1995, is also a member of the expert group constituted by the ANI Admn to ascertain the behavioural changes in Jarawas and the reasons for their increasing interaction with the outside world. He responded to the queries of LOA on the issue of closure of ATR

As the Jarawas have come out of the forest and are frequenting the villages close to their habitat, do you think that the closure of the road at this juncture will put an end to their miseries?
Have the Jarawas actually come out of the forest or do they still live in the Andamans, which has forest and fields, roads and sea? This expression of 'Jarawa's coming out of the forest needs to be seen rather as their freedom of movement so that we do not try and restrict them in a forest, boat or hospital etc. From what I understand they come out and go back on occasion with varying regularity and irregularity at some places, and they do not do so because of any miseries that we assume afflict them. It is an opportunity that they are using ever since hostile stances from both colonizers and Jarawas transformed into spectacles of barter, negotiation and our perception of being capable to serve their needs through welfare; this is all more perception and opinionated based on our curiosities and varying sensibilities rather than being based on sound information and argument. From the days of the bush police to poachers- Indian (from the Islands) and from outside (Burma etc) began using their territory they have always been under duress in attempting to protect what they own and want. In fact more than anything else the confrontations of the past and that of the present, have been influenced by the ways in which tribal welfare has being administered visually through measures such as gifts and later to feeding and catering to their immediate demands; this displays a vaccum of ideas and that which we think has seemingly deterred their hostility making it conducive for poachers. Their movement is not the arrival of a people from a forest due to lack of facilities and because of any other lacunae (may be there is a lack of fun in the forest- at least the kind that can be had by being the spectacle and the naughty boy or girl in front of everybody else (all of us), to benefit).  In essence, what I'm trying to get across is that we can assume that there are many miseries, or happenings outside and within the forest, but at the same time I would like to stress that it is easy to see that given decades of being treated as the exotic Islanders who received gifts, and were also kept in place by gun toting police men, it is but natural that curiosity gets the better of communities when they see some benefit in foraging off the insecurities and sensitivities of other people when they can. From 1999 onwards when they became more peaceable with others after events of 1997 onward when non hostile engagements with Jarawas and others developed, we have continually fumbled around. In 1998 Mr NC Ray (then secretary to the LG) even went in a helicopter to throw out bags of coconuts and bananas to the Jarawas from the air assuming there was a sudden food scarcity and that bananas and coconuts would provide succor; when they come to the bastis of Tirur and Kadamtala etc we have always tried to appease them. Today fishermen and hunters of pig and boar & lobster catchers camp in the Jarawa reserve and gift to stay on for brief periods. This is learning and a perpetuation of the gifting technique to pacify and acquire space on formerly hostile ground. This is exactly what has happened in the past with the Onge in the late 1970's and 1980's. This can be verified by asking those old residents of North Wandoor, Hut Bay, Ramakrishnapur, the 17th km village etc how they interacted with the Onge, made peace with those camps on the west coast of Little Andaman, and eventually even burnt down huts of the Onge in the early 1990's near Jackson Creek, Umber coupe and such areas.  The Jarawa have seen our bad sides and our good intentions too, they will continue to come. Closing of the road is not any effort to stop Jarawas from coming or going anywhere (this must be seen and realised- its quite simple). I guess it's more a means to restrain ourselves.
One cannot stop them from going anywhere unless the Bush police or the JPP or whatever they want to call them start using their guns like they used to in the past. The forest belongs to the Jarawa and the road trespasses through it- the road is not very old (1989) and it has been and will continue to be a means for the control of a region that never belonged to us but was taken away from indigenous islanders. The other implications that the closure of the road has are with change to roadside forests, the increasing traffic, pollution and the costly repair of the road on a yearly basis, the gifting and sightseeing that it has opened up and the exchange of culture(?) through the garbage we dispense with on the road. Also, I wonder if you have seen Jarawa households by the road, kids playing while their parents are out looking for food, men and women on occasion bathing by the road in a stream and the ideology and voyeurism we indulge in from our seats in buses and cars. Just like we respect our privacy and space, I am sure they too do. We have come far enough with knowledge of the world around us to know that despite the Jarawas probably wanting to hang around near the road, that it also will have multiple negative effects in time and that they have every chance of landing up in another Dugong Creek or Strait Island settlement in the years to come.
 One can elicit changes in their behaviour from bus drivers and tourist taxi wallahs- no need for 'experts' here and neither are the latter experts in any way. Clear and rational thinking based on sound information is required, not opinions. It is as simple as being in a position to decide not to colonise their space just like our 'Indian' space was many years ago on the subcontinent and even before.
They are a people who tried to prevent their space being taken over in the 1980's along the road with their bows and arrows some decades ago. Now they seem to like hanging around, but we are knowledgeable from examples worldwide of terms such as culture contact, disempowerment, and also privacy. Closure of the road will not ensure the survival of 5 or 50,000 Jarawas. What it will do is bring us-as the larger society, to understand that the region belongs to them- we have the technology and means of going about it-(shall come to the shipping in shambles bit later).  Kadamtala, Tirur Kausalya Nagar etc etc will be visited from time to time. WE need to evolve and act on a policy and also educate the public on why we need to respect their space and not philosophize (I am doing so at the moment) - we need to act.

Will they go back to the forest and start their life afresh without outside intervention?

I do not think 277-300(?) Jarawas are waiting at Puttatang or Bhatubasti wondering what to do..- go back to their chadda's or stay and rent houses in Baratang's Bamboo nullah, Port Blair's Nayagaon or Strait Island.
There has begun a process of intermingling and exchange. This will continue and they will come and go as the please and it could very well be so. WE are the ones who should do things not as we please but keep some restraint in our need to try and solve problems we think other people have. We have to rid ourselves of the rot of ideas within. Local villagers who suffer the jaunts of the Jarawa and those others who prosper with the supply of welfare goods need to know that if we want to have Jarawas for neighbours, we must treat them with respect and with dignity, learn about them maybe but not treat them to our notions of 'goodies and beer' to have a good time at someone else's expense. We are a very racial and colour biased society- we wish to make the Jarawa 'aadmi' by teaching them, rather than learning from them. The exchange process of crabs, deer meat etc for articles like flavoured tobacco, (maybe alcohol-am not sure) can be transformed by stopping that process where possible. Language plays a very important role here and conversations can be carried out in their language. Appreciative learning involves respecting the 'others' life and ways of going about it in his or her world view, and taking it further based on consensus. Like I have tried to articulate before, our intervention should be based on the least intervention, in terms of 'welfare measures', in terms of messing with other peoples affairs. There are so many areas in Port Blair and elsewhere in the islands where local people (settlers etc) require interventions because they are not able to handle a variety of livelihood issues on their own. The Jarawa need our sensibility by learning from examples of the changes brought about to the lives of the Andamanese, Onge, and themselves and the 'Milale moonlighting' boat trips.

Who do you think are responsible for the current situation of the Jarawas? What survival strategies can be adopted to save this indigenous tribe from extinction?

WE are collectively responsible for the situation we are in. WE call ourselves democratic, mini India, shining gold coin or whatever....but we have also imagined a lot of things before actually knowing them, and tried finding solutions to civilize the 'primitive'-"hamarae adivasi bhaiyon and behanon", on the edge of survival!
As far as I would like to think, the Jarawas and other hunter gatherers have worked out their strategy- hunt and gather, forage and pillage where possible. We have to be able to desist the temptation to give them a strategy, but rather allow them to devise their own henceforth, and as always. Of course we also have to keep our friendly neighborhood poachers (foreign and Indian) out of the reserve for them to be able to carry on with their strategy of hunting and gathering. Unless of course we think otherwise, like we have been all these years and continue to preach to the Jarawa. Actually I wouldn't say -'we have'...rather policy makers and implementers. There have been many voices from the 1970's onward who have tried telling the local administration to try to stop playing around. This is the result of the ways they acted on their policies without caring to understand why those people said what they did.

What alternate do you suggest if the road is closed? As the shipping sector is in shambles, can the administration provide proper connectivity through sea? What should be done to overcome this problem?

I do agree that the shipping sector is in shambles. I dread to realize that some day I will again have to go and wait in a queue at Phoenix bay jetty to buy a ticket on MV Chowra or Dering or maybe a new (Milale?)...and wait from early morning with pan chewing aroma's around, and then peer through a hole in the wall with metal jalli work so that no violence is perpetrated on the ticket clerk who will use a ballpoint pen to write my name, age and destination etc, all after the click of a button when a ticket rolls out of the dot matrix printer as a 'computerized ticket'.
All this, if I get that ticket, or else wait for the next ship… same way next time. Travelling to the Nicobars has been a nightmare at times.
Apart from the ticketing nightmare, some of the ships are bearable, others not so. Shipping etiquette has gone down with every anchor dropped, and raised; paan coloured decks, roaches and rats in the bunk and cabins, and dour faces at sea. Some of the new ships that ply are fast and can be managed efficiently if they wanted to. The captains of some vessels are under stress from having to cater to a variety of demands against many odds of governance. It also requires a public aware of their rights and needs.
The recent expose of the shipping shambles of A&N in your paper has done make people aware and bring others in public scrutiny. This interaction will help improve situations rather than like the ticket clerk, use a ball point on a 'computerized ticket' and say 'challega'. If toilets in hotels have cold and hot water taps, why can't ships be better used by people?  They are so much more comfortable than having to squeeze in to a bus and traverse the Islands on a bumpy and winding road? The ships are faster, and have comfortable seats (OK the AC is usually switched off to save on diesel so that the excess can be sold in the black market)- this can be rectified and the journey made a little more easier.
Sometimes limitations on Islands can often help bring about innovative and sustainable lifestyles. Jetties and wharfs across the islands will ease the load on Port Blair that is bursting. Local businessmen and houses across the islands will get their goods faster if they are off loaded at their own ports rather than doubling transportation from Port Blair to Diglipur. Spreading infrastructure will spread skill and give shape to life on the islands rather than allow it to explode. WE seem to have this idea that every place should have what is available elsewhere (be like the mainland syndrome), rather than be unique in our own way, working out challenges for a future on island that have biological and cultural diversity and also limitations that can make life unique. I say this given that there was a hare brained idea of introducing a railway network across the length of the islands. There are jetty's in most places that require them, infrastructure or part of it is there- all it needs is improvement and people willing to use it and ensure that its used and maintained well. Maintaining that road is a boon for contractors and for supply networks that have built up after the ATR was operationalised- but one must ask at what cost? Islanders usually are used to the sea and live surrounded by it. It's best if we know how to use the sea and our resources to the best benefit and for years to come.

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