Friday, October 24, 2014

Jarawa Tribal Reserve: A Potemkin Village?

Jarawa Tribal Reserve:
A Potemkin Village?
By Zubair Ahmed
http://lightofandamans.blogspot.in/2014/10/jarawa-tribal-reserve-potemkin-village.html

*[Potem'kin vil'lage: a pretentiously showy or imposing fa├žade intended to mask or divert attention from an embarrassing or shabby fact or condition.]

Is everything fine inside the Jarawa Reserve, especially during the last two years, when major steps were taken and stringent laws enacted to contain poaching of Jarawa resources as well as keep a tab on tourists ogling at them in the garb of visiting limestone caves?
Everybody was under the good impression that things are under control, and the syllabus is not yet out of context. However, the perception is deceptive. The constant lip-service did keep them away from the glare of media as well as the activists. Ecological and tribal concerns might have remained at the fore while discussing development, but the system never strained to do anything concrete to translate the concerns on the ground. Nevertheless, bureaucratic approach did enough irreparable damage.
When Alexandre and his team could hoodwink the whole system and enter the Jarawa Reserve, and remain with them undetected and unnoticed for days and weeks, that too several times during last three years, isn't it time to realize that many things are not right, and it might require some kind of willpower to accept the fact and take some bold decisions, without fear or favour.
From police, intelligence, defence, coast guard, forest and tribal dept, nobody had a clue about the Organic Jarawa documentary project, until Alexandre himself revealed it. Isn't it shocking that such kind of breach could be a potent threat to the security perceptions of the territory? Lots of questions can be poised why we were in dark about the incident.
Why such intelligence and security lapse on the side of our defence and police? How porous and vulnerable is our West Coast? Why the operations went undetected by the forest department inside the Reserve? What happened to all the tall talk about the strategic importance of the Islands, when the most sensitive part of the territory, already forbidden to the citizens of the country is wide open for someone who enters unnoticed and does whatever he wants?
In the face of such blatant lapse, how can the Administration claim that the tribe is well protected from evil forces? In fact, Alexandre and his team has proved how weak, our system is. He has proved beyond doubt that the territory is not protected as claimed. Instead of looking out, its time we look inside and plug the holes.
Why is there lack of coordination between different agencies involved? When we poised this question to Prof Vishwajit Pandya, a senior Anthropologist and Hony. Director, ANTRI, he said, “When the defence forces can have a combined command, why can’t the Islands have an “Environmental Force” involving all three agencies – Tribal Welfare, Police and Forest Dept. We need to see the picture in totality and not as separate entities. I had suggested this to the Administration, but the response is not encouraging.”
Whenever a breach is brought to the notice of police or forest by AAJVS, there begins a marathon blame-game. Conflicting interests play crucial role in the outcome, and most interestingly, what the Administrator can do is just appeal them to work in unison to achieve the desired ‘unknown’ goal!
The rhetoric that the Andaman and Nicobar Administration is committed to safeguard the interests of the vulnerable Jarawa tribe is nothing but a charade, or how did four small Jarawa kids lost their lives in the last three-four months, due to negligence of the pharmacist posted with AAJVS? Very strong documentary evidence proves that expired Amoxicillin and other drugs were administered to the tribes, and there were clear carelessness in attending to post-natal care of Jarawa babies, resulting in death. Why no action was taken when the matter was brought to the knowledge of the higher ups?
It’s true that ANTRI is playing a very vital role in redefining the discourse and addressing policy issues, and implementing very unique projects in education (Project Angkatha) and clothing (Project Kangapu) that would show results in the long run. The role of AAJVS in executing the projects designed by ANTRI is also encouraging. But, on the ground, there seems to be disconnect, which is shocking.
The Jarawas could keep the whole Organic Jarawa episode a secret for such a long time literally startles. In fact, the poachers or those collaborators, who helped the film crew holds more influence or the Jarawas trust them more than the AAJVS staff is a fact, which has serious repercussions.
“Normally Jarawas won’t say anything unless asked, and in this case when they got so much goodies from the film crew, they knew what to do,” says Prof. Pandya.
The conviction one can see on the ground does not reflect at the top echelons, which conveniently affects the whole process. Wary to take decisions, and the protracted delay inflicts the system. The suffocating check the bureaucrats exercise on the social workers and the experts will not help in yielding any results. Until and unless the system is liberated from the clutches of babus, whatever we get to see from inside the Reserve would be through some Alexandres, Thiery Falises or Oliver Blaises.
One needs to open eyes and do a reality check or when the bitter facts explode with full force, it would be very late.

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