Monday, January 16, 2012

The Façade of Mainstreaming Jarawas


The Façade of Mainstreaming Jarawas

By Zubair Ahmed

There is a story of a disappointed man. He was blind. Everyone helped him. Whenever he had to cross the road, someone assisted him. People gave him free food and clothing. He was a satisfied man and thought how good people around him were. He wished he had eyes to see the beautiful and good people around him. One day while crossing the road, a car hit him. The car was driven by an ophthalmic surgeon. He felt bad and took the blind man to his clinic. He found out that it was a very small ailment, which had made the man blind and could be easily treated. He was operated free of cost. And he got his sight back. But, people no more helped him or gave him free food or clothing. He became a disappointed man. He now knew that the world was not as good as he thought.
Without any outside intervention, the Jarawas today lead a satisfied and content life. Whenever, there is PAT violation or breach on Andaman Trunk Road, the focus shifts to the debate on mainstreaming of Jarawas. 
The gradual inclusion or integration of the Jarawas into the mainstream society has always been the focal point of the debate about Jarawas. Last week, Tribal Affairs Minister Krishna Chandra Deo said that he is in favour of gradual inclusion. He also said that Jarawas lead a beastly life in the forests.
This is the crisis Jarawas are facing today. Their life is being debated at various forums without an iota of truth about the ground reality. How come they reached the conclusion that Jarawas lead a beastly life? If a minister who is their guardian says such frivolous things, how can one expect fair assesment in their decisions?
The debate that we are privileged and Jarawas are under-privileged is another notion which cannot be substantiated. Jarawas are a content tribe leading a peaceful life in their forests with ample food resource base. However, unrelented plundering of their resources by the poachers, local and foreign, if continues unabated, it will only help in depleting their resource base. Many incidents go unnoticed such as hunting and fishing in their territory, and when such cases are detected, politicians of all hues come to the rescue of the culprits. In the same vein, they will harp about mainstreaming of Jarawas.
An intelligent tribe which has lived for centuries in their forests is now at crossroads. Nomadic in nature, they shuttle in their forests from Lewis Inlet to Constance Bay. From Kadamtala to Tirur, travelling through the forest is not a taxing one for them. They don't need to stretch like us after a tiring journey of two-hours on Andaman Trunk Road. They are also not bedazzled by our speeding cars and boats.
It's a good sign that their population is increasing. The Administration is quite happy and vocal about it. Numbering about 400, there has been increase in their population in the last decade. The population has increased not because they started mingling, but they are still protected from the invasion of outside world, and not the other way around.
The total reserve of 1208 sq kms for 400 Jarawas is quite sufficient for hunting and gathering. The fear that their resources are depleting and they are hungry is totally unfounded.
As they don’t have permanent shelters and are not settled in a place, it would be preposterous to think about the kind of development that we have for ourselves. The case of Nicobarese is quoted frequently suggesting mainstreaming of the Jarawas. In fact, it took more than two centuries for the Nicobarese to reach the position they enjoy today. Still, there is an inner-line permit system existing. Why cannot we allow the same time-span for the Jarawas too? It is surprising that we cannot find a tailor, a barber or a blacksmith among the Nicobarese, though they need all these services to cope up with the lifestyle they have adopted from us. They are also very bad agriculturists as far as the kind of food culture they have adopted from us. They have become dependent on the outer-world for all such needs, that too after two centuries of their interaction with the outer world.
Why we are in a haste suggesting forced mainstreaming of tribe who came into contact with the outer world just a decade ago? How can we forget the case of Great Andamanese, who were the victims of forced integration?
Jarawas need to shed their nomadic nature to even think about agriculture, education and other vocations that we prefer them to adopt. Once their population increases and they feel the need to settle down and think about individual ownership, they might take up other livelihood options other than hunting, fishing and gathering.
If we look at the technology that Jarawas use for their day to day requirement, we will feel ashamed of our development and progress. We need refrigeration to keep our food fresh, whereas Jarawas keep smoking the meat under fire which is kept burning by the fat of the meat of boar to keep the flies away. They preserve the meat for more than 15 days without decay. The civilised world goes wary as soon as electricity goes off. We become cut off from our so-called mainstream. Jarawas travel by foot hundreds of miles through the dense forest without clothe on them. Rain and shine does not make them dependent on anything outside. We need winter and summer clothing to protect ourselves from the miseries of climate. We are so much dependent on different things and we call ourselves privileged and civilised.
On the contrary, Jarawas are independent without any kind of class struggle and injustice which we can just dream of. There is no hypertension, diabetes or the diseases bestowed by our lifestyle.
Assimilation of Jarawas is just a façade to continue our supremacy on a tribe which is not used to our ways of life. We forget that it's a very thin line between assimilation and annihilation. Gradual inclusion is inevitable, but can we define the timeframe? It might take 100 years or more like the Nicobarese, whom we have made dependent on us for most of their needs.
In the first instance, the focus should be on the protection of the Jarawas and their territory from both poachers and bad influence of the outside population. Once their population increase, which might take a century or more, they might be in a position to decide for themselves.
Jarawas too are aware of the cultural loss they are enduring. It is heartening to learn that the Jarawas in Kadamtala have decided themselves not to speak in Hindi language in front of their children. The road and the markets that Jarawas frequent have spoiled their language.
The unjustified haste that we show today is not in favour of Jarawas but to conceal our failure in containing our greed and the fear of losing our comfortable life. Instead of imposing our mainstream on them, let Jarawas constitute their own mainstream.


doctornature said...

Dear Zubair, You wrote a very nice article, Let me think again .....

Snapdragon said...

A thought provoking article that gives the alternative point of view, which has been stilled by the cacophony on mainstreaming the Jarawas that is emanating from vested interests.

My Foot? said...

Finally, someone said it! It's annoying to hear everyone announce that they know what's best for the Jawara tribe, when nobody bothers to figure out whether the tribe wants anything to do with "regular Indian civilization". Good job with article :)

I will have to disagree with the Hindi bit though. Additional knowledge of any sort should be viewed as an asset. When people perceive knowledge as a threat to their culture or something that "spoils" their culture, it leads to dangerous consequences.

Sunny, Grade 10, Riverside school said...
This comment has been removed by the author.