Survival welcomes any attempt to draw attention to the plight of the Jarawa tribe. Unfortunately, there are several damaging factual inaccuracies in Stefan Kirschner’s article.

The author claims, 'The goal of groups like Survival International is to keep the Jarawa isolated and in a 'pristine condition'. A cursory glance at any of our materials would prove him wrong. We do not believe that the Jarawa, or any other tribe, are in a ‘pristine condition’; they, like any other society, change over time. Nor has Survival ever advocated isolation. It is not about preventing the Jarawa from making contact with outside/mainstream society; it is about letting them decide if and when they do so. The illegal Andaman Trunk Road denies the tribe that choice.

The author claims that the Jarawa’s actions prove that they are willing to come into contact with civilization. However, whilst they may sometimes visit settlements to collect things from the outside world that they find useful, they then always return to their forest; and whilst they may be happy to accept the medical assistance which is offered, they are always desperate to go back to the forest as soon as they can. Quite how the author can suggest that there is therefore an 'inevitable and inexorable' process underway towards 'civilization' is beyond us: so far the Jarawa have shown no desire to 'join the mainstream'.

Kirschner quotes Swaminathan Aiyar who believes that the Jarawa are in need of education and healthcare from the outside world. His desire to help the tribe is commendable, but he ignores the overwhelming historical evidence suggesting that such good intentions have invariably been disastrous – the article itself cites the already extinct Aka-Bo and Jangil, and the ‘bleak prognosis’ of the Onge. Time and time again, attempts to assimilate tribal people into mainstream society have been nothing if not catastrophic (see  Progress can kill). In contrast, when tribal people are left to live on their land in freedom, they thrive. We must not force the Jarawa to be another experiment.

The author betrays his true position when talks of the 'modernization process'. The Jarawa are just as modern as any other Andaman Islander – are they not also living in the 21st century? Only when people stop imposing their notion of development on tribal peoples will their survival into the next century be guaranteed.


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