Sonia Gandhi stands up for endangered Andaman tribe

Jarawa woman returning to her forest after gathering food on the edges of the Jarawa reserve.
Jarawa woman returning to her forest after gathering food on the edges of the Jarawa reserve.
© Survival

Sonia Gandhi, President of India’s ruling Congress party, has strongly backed the right of the isolated Jarawa tribe not to be forced into the ‘mainstream’.

Mrs Gandhi, named by Forbes magazine last year as the 9th most powerful person on the planet, was speaking at a meeting of India’s National Advisory Council (NAC), which advises the government on social issues.

Mrs Gandhi, who chairs the council, is said to have been following the Jarawa’s plight for many years. The Jarawa live on India’s Andaman Islands, in the Indian Ocean.

Jarawa girls in clothes given to them by outsiders. Encroachment onto their land risks exposing the Jarawa to diseases to which they have no immunity.
Jarawa girls in clothes given to them by outsiders. Encroachment onto their land risks exposing the Jarawa to diseases to which they have no immunity.
© Survival

The Hindu newspaper has reported that the NAC told the Ministry of Tribal Affairs it must consult with the Jarawa before drafting any policy on their future.

The meeting of India’s powerful think tank came on the same day that Survival called for tourists to boycott the road which cuts through the Jarawa’s forest. Tourists are treating the Jarawa like animals in a safari park.

Survival’s Director, Stephen Corry, said today, ‘It’s heartening to know that members of the National Advisory Council understand that it’s vital for the Jarawa to be allowed to choose their own way of life and determine their own future. Attempts to force tribal people into the mainstream are always disastrous. However, the first step is for the Jarawa to regain control of their land – the decision to close the road cutting through it must be upheld.’