Young women from an ancient tribe are being sexually exploited on India’s eastern Andaman Islands by mainland settlers who are luring the tribe’s women with alcohol and marijuana, according to a rare account from a tribesman.
UK-based Survival International, a non-governmental body working to protect indigenous tribes, managed to get an audio recording of a man from the Jarawa tribe who made the allegations.
The Jarawas are one of several aborginal groups on the eastern archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, believed to be one of the earliest humans to inhabit South Asia having lived there for the past 55,000 years.
‘It’s extremely disturbing to hear, directly from the Jarawa, how they are being exploited by unscrupulous outsiders and given alcohol and marijuana to lure and exploit Jarawa women,” said Survival International’s director Stephen Corry.
“Not only are these substances being used to take sexual advantage of vulnerable women and girls, but they also risk creating a dangerous dependency which would be devastating for the tribe,” Corry said.
He called upon the Andaman administration to prosecute those responsible for exploiting the Jarawas. Local environmentalists are equally worried.
“The systematic encroachment of the Jarawa reserve is worrying us. Unless the local administration stops the tourists and settlers and keep them away from the Jarawa habitats, it will be impossible to save this ancient people,” said Samir Acharya of the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology (SANE).
SANE has long campaigned for closing down the Andaman Trunk Road that passes through the Jarawa reserve and connects the northern Andamans with the provincial headquarters, Port Blair.
Indian tourists in large numbers turn up for the “human safaris” – package tours that include visits to the Jarawa reserve to see the aboriginals.
The audio recording of the Jarawa man points to settlers from non-tribal “mainland” communities regularly entering the protected reserves of the tribe to lure young Jarawa women with alcohol or drugs to sexually exploit them.
The numbers of Jarawas are now down to 400. Most other aborginal groups in the Andamans also number a few hundred – some such as the Great Andamanese are down to double digits.
“They were fiercely resistant to human contact until the end of the last century, but were slowly lured by cooked food and then alcohol,” said Acharya of the SANE.
The young Jarawa man claimed “outside boys” pressured their girls into having sex under the influence of alchohol.
“They drink alcohol in the girls’ house. They sleep in the Jarawa’s house. They smoke marijuana and then chase the girls,” the Jarawa man said. He went on to list the names of poachers who come into their forest to sexually exploit Jarawa girls.
According to local media reports, a group of Jarawas confronted a group of settlers on a beach near the edge of their reserve recently, seeking to punish those who had sexually exploited Jarawa girls.
“This adds a new dimension to the conflict building up between the Jarawas and the settlers,” said Acharya.
The Survival International has sent out a global appeal to save the Jarawas from exploitation and dependence on alcohol brought in by outsiders.
The Andaman administration would not confirm or deny the accusations of sexual exploitation of Jarawa women, but a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was prepared to investigate.