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Source: The Daily Telegraph
Author: Dean Nelson
India’s Supreme Court has ordered a tourist exclusion zone to protect its isolated Jarawa tribe from “human safaris”.
The Jarawa are believed to be one of the first peoples to migrate from Africa to Asia thousands of years ago and they have lived in isolation from contact with the outside world on the remote Indian Ocean Andaman Islands ever since.
Their isolation has left them vulnerable to Western and other non – indigenous diseases to which they have no immunity.
Government measures to protect them however have failed in recent years under pressure from growing tourism on the tropical islands and corrupt local officials cashing in on fascination with the Jarawas’ customs.
Campaigners say the tribals are also sexually exploited.
There was widespread condemnation of the government earlier this year after a video emerged showing a semi-naked Jarawa woman being pressurised by a police officer to dance for tourists in exchange for food.
International campaigners for the rights of indigenous peoples had called for a controversial highway which skirts a reserve for the Jarawa to be abandoned to minimise contact between the tribals and the outside world.
Their isolation however is unpopular in India where development is regarded a higher priority and the conservation proposals seen as a barrier to tourism development.
India’s supreme court ruling followed a petition by a local resort owner claiming his right to develop his enterprise within a buffer zone to protect the Jarawa.
The Indian government had earlier proposed to restrict commercial activity within the buffer zone to businesses employing fewer than 20 people and with a turnover of less than £120,000.
But the court effectively struck down its proposals and instead banned all commercial activity in the area. Buses will still be allowed to drive along the highway connecting the north and south of the island which passes through the buffer zone.
The campaign group Survival International told The Daily Telegraph it welcomed the court’s ruling but feared the Jarawa would never be fully protected while the road through the buffer zone remains open to tourists.
“Hundreds of tourists every day are still going to be allowed to drive through the Jarawa’s land to ogle at the tribe, treating them like animals in a safari park. The road deprives the Jarawa of their dignity and denies them their right to control if and when they have contact with outsiders.
An alternative route must be put in place as soon as possible and the road closed,” said Sophie Grig, the group’s senior campaigner.