Background briefing

Barefoot India, Andaman Islands

Barefoot is a travel company with resorts in the Andaman Islands. Its guests have apparently included Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet.

Barefoot opened a new resort close to the islands’ Jarawa reserve, set up to protect the recently contacted Jarawa tribal people from intrusion.

In March 2010, India’s Supreme Court suspended the resort’s operations, pending further deliberation by the court. Government authorities on the Andamans want to close it permanently, and Survival also opposes the resort.

‘Socially responsible’

Barefoot claims that ‘sustainable and socially responsible tourism development’ is core to its philosophy. But the resort near the Jarawa reserve, if reopened, would put the Jarawa’s lives at risk from disease.

The Jarawa are already extremely vulnerable, as poachers invade their land and a road cuts through their forest. Survival’s report ‘Progress Can Kill’ details the devastating effects that disease has had on isolated tribal peoples.

5km buffer zone

The authorities have been pressing for a 5km buffer zone around the reserve to prevent the spread of disease to the Jarawa. The resort site lies inside this buffer zone.

There are other developments within the buffer zone that also put the Jarawa at risk, and about which Survival is also concerned. The international nature of Barefoot’s clientele, however, significantly increases the risk of introducing infectious diseases.

War of words

Following Survival’s publicity of the authorities’ attempts through the courts to stop the building of the resort, Barefoot accused Survival of libel and defamation and demanded an apology.

It then escalated its attacks, saying Survival is ‘voyeuristic, deeply offensive, racist’ and ‘bordering on pornography and promotion of paedophilia’.

Survival continues to assert that Barefoot’s resort poses a severe risk to the Jarawa and must be closed permanently.

Survival will also continue to press the authorities to close the road through the reserve and other developments important to Jarawa welfare, as it has been doing for more than 10 years.