Sensitivity Towards Tribes Need of the Hour: T N Pandit

For T.N.Pandit who has spent most of his professional life in these islands, the tribal question is all about being sensitive to the basic philosophy that underlines the tribal policy. Hence when he talks about Jarawas his pain in this lack of sensitivity among policy makers and general public is evident.

We are converting Jarawas into consumers by introducing barter system among them. Entry into Jarawa territory should be allowed only to sensitive people. With the scale of contact with the tribe, the dye is already cast against the Jarawas. The outside intervention has had adverse impact on the life style of Jarawas, forcing them to bartering and begging with outsiders for tobacco products and other food items.” Said Prof Trilok Nath Pandit, eminent Anthropologist and the founder director of ASI, Port Blair regional centre.

Prof. TN Pandit was delivering the BS Guha Memorial Lecture on “Inter-play of Hunt-gatherers at the National Seminar on the Theme “Land, forest, water and people: Competing Interests and Emerging Realities/Issues” held on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee Celebration of the Anthropological Survey of India’s Regional Centre.

Reminiscing the gone days, Prof T N Pandit said, “I was hosted thrice by Andaman and Nicobar Islands. On 20 March 1960, I reached Andamans by M V Andaman for the first time. When I saw the Islands from the deck of the ship, the greenery, swaying palm leaves it looked something fairy-like. I wrote – it’s a breathtaking beautiful place. I still feel very sentimental about my yesteryears in Port Blair.” Anthropological Survey of India has a chequered history in the Islands. Dr. Guha, founder of ASI wanted the organization to be centralized with its office in Kolkata. However, in 1951, the Regional Centre at Port Blair came into existence.

Referring to a rare and amazing comment on Andaman Trunk Road in 1950s by Dr Guha, he read out – “when the country is opened up by North-South Road, Jarawa tribe will be molested with Settlements coming up around their habitat.” Dr Guha was not just engaged in study, but was very concerned about the tribes.

On British approach towards the tribe, Prof T N Pandit said that British referred to the tribes as savages and the Indians as natives. British wanted to civilize them and teach them table manners. The close contact with the tribes brought diseases and diseases are the most secret weapons. They wanted friendly relations so that they can occupy their land.

Indian approach was totally different towards the tribes. Jarawas in the end of 1850s were living in Port Blair. They were pushed to the Western side of South Andaman. Jarawas were always a troubled people.

The whole scenario changed in 1950s when the government sends refugees from East Pakistan. The trend continued in 60s and 70s. Economic migrants too started pouring in from states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The colonization process was a peaceful one. In 1967, settlement came up in Little Andaman and Campbell Bay.

In 1966, I estimated the figures of Jarawas to be around 300. Jarawa resistance towards the attitude of the colonizers was natural. Nobody would like to be pushed like this. The Jarawa attacks in 60s were not blind attacks. They would mark the person to be attacked and planned the revenge. They would give sufficient warning signs before the attack. Jarawas never liked anybody hunting in their forests. Dogs as we see today were not friends of Jarawas. They used to kill the dogs first that could raise alarm while attacks.

Great Andamanese were the most affected by colonization. ANI Admn was not doing anything for them. In 1968, Chief Commissioner Mahavir Singh observed the polluted lives of Andamanese and wanted them not to be loitering around and begging in Port Blair. The ASI made a plan to resettle them because they had become drug addicts and alcoholics. The choice of Strait Island was made by the ANI Admn. Resettling Great Andamanese was a good step.

Our greatest failure is Onge. We have pushed them into a corner of the Island, where they could not carry out their hunting gathering activities. We changed their huts and lifestyle. We should educate Onges and even send them outside for studies. Unfortunately, we leave things halfway. We are making mistakes in executing the policy and plans. Our civilization is nothing but greed. How the Little Andaman settlement came up is an open example. We further intervened in their lives by putting a Nicobari settlement close to their habitat.

Anthropologists should respect their subject and people when they study. We need to BE careful about our choice of words. It shows our attitude. Phrases like ‘Jarawa-infested forests’ are wrong choice of words.

He said that the aboriginal tribes also enjoy the constitutional rights at par with other citizens of the country irrespective of whether they are aware of their rights. The bureaucrats, therefore, have to be more sensitive in ensuring their genuine rights. The officialdom needs to be educated and sentitized about the indigeneous tribes.

On the recent Jarawa Video Dance issue, he said that it’s not a new phenomenon. He reminisced when Y B Chouhan, then Home Minister had visited the Islands. Great Andamanese were brought and made to dance.

During this two- day national seminar on “Land, water, and People: competing interests and emerging realities” a number of experts and anthropologists presented their papers. During the deliberations, the participants strongly protested the move to open the tribal islands for the tourism purposes. They categorically stated that the promotion of tourism in the tribal areas even in the name of eco tourism would definitely go against the genuine interests of the tribes of these islands.