New Delhi, (IANS) The Andaman and Nicobar authorities Monday denied that women from the endangered Jarawa tribe were exploited and forced to dance semi-naked for tourists, as reported by a British newspaper’s website, but said they will check the veracity of the video and take action against those involved.
The union home ministry asked the island authorities to probe the veracity of the footage posted on the website of the Guardian, showing women from the Jarawa tribe, who have inhabited the Andaman Islands for thousands of years, being made to dance topless for a few morsels of food.
The footage evoked strong reactions from women’s rights activists who demanded strong action against those who violated the rules.
Officials of the Andaman administration and the islands’ representative in parliament, Bishnu Pada Ray, however, said the video was old. “Things aren’t this way but strict action will be taken against those involved,” Ray said.
Sources in the home ministry said Home Minister P. Chidambaram will take up the issue with the local administration during his pre-scheduled visit to the union territory Jan 21.
Andaman officials said the video seemed to have been shot years ago. “The footage is at least four or five years old,” Chief Secretary Shakti Sinha said in a television interview.
He said it was difficult to identify the people who had asked tribals to dance, though “there is no doubt the people in question have broken the law”.
Andamans Police Chief S.B. Deol said whoever shot the video had violated the rules and will have to face action. “It is obvious that it is the videographer who is breaking the law of the land and inciting the tribals to dance,” he said in a statement.
Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Rsearch, said the act was “disrespectful and shameful”.
“It shows how one of our most ancient and indigenous tribes have been exploited and abused. There is absence of awareness among people,” Ranjana Kumari told IANS.
National Federation of Indian Women general secretary Annie Raja said: “It is very sad these helpless tribal women are treated as slaves. The government should take immediate stern action against those who have forced them into such an act.”
The Guardian posted the footage filmed by a tourist guide in which an official in uniform orders the women to dance because he has given them food.
Journalist Gethin Chamberlain, who was part of the crowd and exposed the alleged exploitation, said the uniformed person was a policeman who had taken a bribe of 200 pounds to arrange the dance.
Deol refuted the allegation that policemen took bribes to take tourists to the Jarawa reserve. “He (the person in uniform) is wearing a camouflage in the video. Police don’t wear camouflage. He may be a forest guard,” Deol said, adding the video is old.
He said the landscape of the area as shown in the video is not like what it is today.
Terming the incident as “obnoxious and disgusting”, Tribal Affairs Minister V. Kishore Chandra Deo said the video was an old clip but “you cannot treat humans like beasts”.
“I will go to the Andamans and see what is happening. I will take it up with the authorities to ensure people responsible for such acts are punished. It deserves exemplary punishment,” Deo said.
Officials said legal notice may be served on TV Channels which showed the footage without taking official version.
The tribe, whose population is estimated to be around 400, has lived in the Andaman Islands for thousands of years. The Jarawas came in contact with the outside world only recently.
In an attempt to reduce contact and prevent tribals from being exploited, the authorities have cut the number of convoys to the area to eight a day. But the road to the area cannot be completely closed because of a court order.
Anthropologists believe the Jarawas are descendants of some of the first humans to move out of Africa. They live a simple life and hunt pigs and turtles with bows and arrows for food. Their women gather fruit and honey.