Monday, January 16, 2012

EDITORIAL: Jarawas in Limelight

Jarawas in Limelight

Andaman and Nicobar Islands attract media glare for two reasons - Tsunami and Jarawas. On 6th evening when the debate on Jarawa video was broadcast on a news channel, the breaking news was about a 7.5 M earthquake in Sumatra and a warning for a local tsunami. Fortunately, the tsunami warning was soon withdrawn. But, the Jarawa dance video issue caught the attention of the whole nation.
Although this was not the first such video of the Jarawas, this became the video, which is being investigated now.
As reported in our cover story, Jarawas have told that the perpetrators of this crime were army personnel, it would be prudent to record the statement of Jarawas and there is a precedent of Jarawas recording their statement as in the case of Tirur in 2008, in which the authorities conducted the court proceedings in Jarawa Reserve so that the Jarawas version could also be brought to the notice.
The controversy once again brought Andaman Trunk Road to the centre-stage with experts associated with Andaman tribals advocating for closure of road, as the ANI Admn has been buying time not implementing the Supreme Court Order of May 2002.
The Administration had to immediately get into firefighting mode, but could not contain the flare up. The Central government too tried damage control. The irony is that the A&N Administration and the Govt of India work in different layers. Only the lowest layer knows the ground reality but they do not have any voice in the decision making. The middle level is an opportunistic one that works solely to butter its bread. The upper layer is migratory one that concerns itself only during the brief period of stay in the islands. And nobody wants to shoulder the responsibility of framing a policy for the Jarawas.
Widespread ignorance about the state of Jarawas gave everyone a chance to speak on the subject and the majority of them were seen suggesting mainstreaming of Jarawas.
This controversy gave politicians like Bishnu Pada Ray an opportunity to start a new campaign creating panic among the settlers trying to convince the Islanders that the Govt of India is keen on closing Andaman Trunk Road and he also challenged the bureaucrats of ANI Admn for a televised debate.
Bharatiya Janta Party too jumped into the fray and condemned the incident and has come out openly in support of Andaman Trunk Road and also announced agitation if the road is closed.
Congress party is silent on the issue and has not made its stand clear yet.
The whole focus of the issue has diverted with the discussion on the video clip, whereas, Jarawas in Tirur needs immediate attention as the level of interaction with the villagers have increased. There are complaints of rampant violation of PAT Regulations. Settlers venture into the Reserve for hunting and to extract forest resources.
Exploitation of Jarawas had made the Administration to sit and revise the PAT regulations making the punishment very stringent and exemplary. The increase in Buffer Zone was another controversial step taken by the Administration to protect the Jarawas. Both issues are criticized by the PRIs as well as Politicians.
Exemplary punishment in one instance will send a clear message that the Administration is serious in protecting the huma heritage known as Jarawas. But, do the administration have the willpower to pursue the case, if the army personnel are identified, who perpetrated the heinous crime, as it would create huge embarrassment and also rift between the civil administration and the defence, the holy cow?

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