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Discussion On Who Should Responsible For The Killing A Jawara Women’s Mixed-Race Baby

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Imagine having to waking up to the death of your child. A mother mourning the loss of her fair-skinned child that had been stripped away from her and killed by one of her own people, according to the ritual customs of her tribe. On 13 March 2016 the New York Times reported an incident concerning a five-month-old “mixed-race” Jarawa baby allegedly murdered by a Jarawa man. This article highlighted the lesser-known “ritual killings” of infants fathered by outsiders among the Jarawa that led to media speculations that a Jarawa man was a culprit of this crime.

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For the first time, the police were confronted with the prospect of arresting a Jarawa man for the murder of the child. Although the article drew attention to this tragic incident in the Andaman Islands, the media reports, failed to explore different perspectives of the people who were involved. In recent years, the Jarawa tribal people have had to deal with issues concerning mistreatment, exploitation and outsiders invading their tribal land. The ideas of human safaris, humans on display, and first contact travel are three controversial topics associated with this issue. Tourist and outsiders have been known to invade isolated tribe without the consent of indigenous tribal people. In fact, there is video footage an incident where a group of indigenous Jarawa women who were sexually exploited and forced to dance naked in front tourists in exchange for bananas thrown at them. The media has brought a lot of attention to the killing of this fair-skinned child and media have presented this issue in way that suggests that Jarawa should not be punished because they are a primitive culture that do not realize their wrong doings. There is major debate around who is responsible for the killing. The real question is who should be held accountable?

The Jarawa man that took the child’s life, the outsider who fathered the child, the Jarawa tribe who condoned the action or the local authorities who should have prevented outside contact and then intervened when they knew the child was in danger. The writer will argue while all these people had a part to play in the death of the child, the party that should be held accountable are the local authorities. The Jarawan people are a small hunter-gatherer community who inhabit the tribal reserve land in the western region of the Middle and South Andaman. Traditionally, the Jarawa have lived in the Andaman Islands with intermittent cross-cultural contacts. Hunter and Gathers that survive by hunting wild boar and lizards, spear fishing on the blue waters off the island’s palm-fringed beaches, and gathering seeds and berries from the forest.

The Jarawa are one of four tribes in the Andamans which is a group of islands in the Indian Ocean. They are a self-contained community that relies on their technologies and survives on the forest and aquatic resources available to them in their ecological habitat. The Jarawa have their own ritual customs and cultural traditions that they have followed for many generations. Historically, the jarawa have kept their bloodline pure through arranged marriage and remaining isolated from the outside world. There is no secret that the tribe has, in the past, carried out ritual killings of infants born to widows or fathered by outsiders. In fact, a Government physician had written a memoir about his work with the Jarawa that described a real Jarawa tradition in which newborn mixed-race babies were breastfed by each of the tribe’s lactating women before being strangled by one of the tribal elders. Soon after the child was killed, the jarawa people carried the child’s body deep into the jungle, where the tribe decides the body should be left to rot for months until the child’s bone can be retrieved. Although this custom is unethical, frightening and horrific, it is a custom that is important aspect the Jarawa culture that cannot be resisted. For this reason, I believe that outsiders understand the strict ritual customs and traditions of the Jarawa tribal people and are aware of the consequences of when their traditions are not followed. The needs of these people should be respected and never be taken lightly.

The murder of the “mixed-race” Jarawa baby is a complex and sensitive issue that needs to be understood against the backdrop of changing Jarawa and non-Jarawa relations. Jarawa tribal people have been poked and prodded by tourists who have invaded the area in recent years. In Andaman Islands, tourists from all around the world have been driving through the Jarawa tribe reserve taking photos of tribal people, exploiting them, feeding them and causing them to die of disease. Like African safaris, excited tourists take pictures of tribal people without permission and invade the privacy of their homeland. The Jarawa tribal people have been treated like a tourist spectacle that can be mistreated and disrespected. Local companies take people to gawp at and photograph them as if they are animals in a zoo. Some even throw sweets and biscuits to them or offer them lifts and money. In fact, one tourist decides his trip stating the journey through tribal reserve was like a safari ride as he was going amidst dense tropical rainforest and looking for wild animals, Jarawa tribal to be specific. The Jarawa have their own rituals and traditions that they abided by for many years. When outsiders invade these indigenous tribes and they do not respect their values and customs this may result in aggressive behavior. The father who was claimed to have been an outsider had impregnated a Jarawa woman who gave birth to fair-skinned child. Giving birth to a fair-skinned child is considered a threat to the gene pool of the Jarawa people. As a result, the jarawa man acted in an aggressive manner and drowned the child. Although the Jarawa tribe were responsible for the killing of the baby, the Indian government and local authorities is responsible for their response to the killing of the mixed-raced child.

In the Andaman Islands, Jarawa community is described as a “particularly vulnerable tribal group”. A tight-knit group of people wired who are willing to kill to protect and sustain the needs of their own people. The Indian government and local authorities were already aware of Jarawa tribes’ customs and beliefs, yet they did not take actions to prevent this tragedy when they first became aware of it. A tribal welfare officer, Mrs. Janagi Savuriyammal who oversees and monitors the tribal reserve was first to be alerted about the birth of a mixed-race baby. Syuriyammal knew that some members of the tribe did not want the mixed-race baby to grow up. Tribal welfare officer were made aware by local tribal people that Jarawa kill babies fathered by a non- Jarawa to prevent the dilution of their gene pool. The tribal welfare officers began a campaign of persuasion, presenting arguments against killing the baby to the extent where a social worker was place near the Jarawa camp to watch over the mother and child. Five months later, the baby was missing the mother was crying silently. She feared the worst, and her fear had dawned on her. The baby was drowned to death. Two witnesses both women, told the police that the previous they have seen a Jarawa man, Tatehane, drinking alcohol with an outsider who had entered the reserve illegally. Tatehane then slipped into the mother’s hut and took the baby from her side before she woke up, a local newspaper reported citing the witnesses. The witness later found the baby’s corpse on the sand, drowned. Local authorities should have enacted regulations to stop outside tourists and set boundaries for them to ensure that they aren’t intruding on this tribe and violating their traditions. In the past Indian government and authorities seek to interfere as little as possible with the indigenous culture, have turned a blind eye to such incidents.

This current issue could have been prevented if local authorities set strict regulation earlier to stop outsiders entering without consent. Indian authorities need to make sure that any outsider that enters is educated and respects the rituals and traditions of the Jarawa people. The Indian government and local authorities lack action to prevent outsiders from entering the Jarawa tribal reserve is closely related to the more recent issue concerning first contact travel in Papua New Guinea. In the BBC documentary, First contact travel, the European journalists and photographers decided to venture off through indigenous tribal land in Papua New Guinea with the hopes of becoming the first people to ever come in contact with isolated indigenous tribes. However, when they visited the tribe they noticed that the tribal people were wearing beaded necklaces gifted to them by a previous tourist. Therefore, the first contact travel mission had failed. They were too late. There is huge debate surrounding the issue of first contact travel. The writer of this essay strongly believes that it is unethical to try and initiate first contact with tribal people and isolated cultures. There is a reason why these tribes are isolated. They do not want to be disturbed and the last thing they want are tourists invading their privacy and threatening their way of life. In the BBC documentary, the TV journalists and photographers were ambushed by the local tribesmen. When entering native land unannounced it should be expected that native people are going to respond in a negative way.

Analogically, invading tribal land is similar to strangers trespassing into another person’s home and entering their personal space without consent. The last thing these isolated indigenous tribes wanted was to be investigated and exposed to European tourists. These tribes who encountered these European journalists and photographers were affected because they were encountering people from the outside world because they are introduced to people who dress completely, act differently and live a completely different lifestyle to them. The outside world was a completely foreign to them. When visitors pass through unannounced and invade these isolated tribal lands, there is a strong possibility that visitors are considered a threat by indigenous tribes and the could get attacked by them. Similarly, the killing of the 5-month fair-skinned, Jarawa baby was the tragic outcome of the outsider entered the Jarawa tribal reserve and did not respect the rights of this tribe. The Indian government and local authorities have recently enacted new rules and regulations to prevent tourist from entering the Jarawa tribal reserve, thus preventing the occurrence of fatal diseases and human safaris. The Government is responsible for protecting the Jarawa tribes from the impact of tourism and enforcing laws to prevent tourist acts from threatening their individual lives and lifestyle. After the Supreme Court declared Jarawa Inhabited forest as “no-go zones”, the administration slashed the number of vehicles from 200 to 60 per day a limiting the numbers of tourists to visit limestone cave and volcanoes in Baratang island.

In May 2017, the Supreme Court supported the Indian government’s decision to ban private tour operators from trespassing onto Jarawa Tribal reserve land. They declared that tour operators must operate their tours from a 5 km radius of the tribal land. This set government law would ensure that both the Jarawa people are able continue living their traditional lives in privacy. In 1969, a non-profit organization called survival international was created to address these issues of humans safaris, humans on display and first contact travel. Survival International is a human rights organization that campaigns for the rights of indigenous tribal people by raising money and bringing awareness to current tourism. They are focused on preventing the annihilation of tribal peoples and to also give them a platform to speak to the world, so they can bear witness to the genocidal violence, slavery and racism they face daily. These current solutions provide the Jarawa tribe and other isolated indigenous tribes hope that there are people in world who respect their value, customs and traditions and people who are allowing these people to continue living in peace.

When it comes to the rights of the Jarawa people, I believe that Indigenous tribes should be respected and isolated from society. However, at the same time, I believe that Jarawa people should be aware of what lies in the outside world and take their time to learn about it for their own safety in the future. There are many perspectives on the killing of the 5-month fair-skinned baby that need to be investigate to determine who really should be held accountable for this tragic incident. This tragedy could have been prevented if local authorities had taken action and informed the government of their concerns. Rather than focusing on the role of the Jarawa man allegedly involved in the killing of an infant in the Andaman Islands, there is a need to change relationship of the Jarawa and non-Jarawa population of the island.

18 March 2020

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