Indian Supreme Court protects tribes

May 26, 2002

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The Supreme Court of India has issued an unprecedented order which at a stroke removes three of the biggest threats to the isolated Jarawa tribe on India's Andaman Islands. On May 7, the court ordered the closure of the Andaman Trunk Road and removal of settlers from tribal reserves, for which Survival has been calling for years. The order – issued in the face of strong political opposition – gives the Jarawa and other tribes on the islands their best chance of survival for generations.

The Jarawa, a nomadic hunter-gatherer tribe who number an estimated 250-300, resisted contact with all outsiders on their islands during nearly 150 years of settlement. The Andaman Trunk Road was bulldozed through the heart of their territory in the 1970s, presenting a deadly threat to the Jarawa's survival. It has brought in a steady stream of outsiders, who destroy the tribe's forest, poach their game and carry the constant threat of introducing epidemics of fatal diseases. In 1998, the Jarawa, driven from their hunting grounds, began to visit the road and settlements – this encouraged more encroachment, and disease spread. It is feared that whole families have recently died in the forest of unknown diseases.

After the government of India conceded that it no longer planned to impose settlement on the Jarawa, Survival focused its campaign on the closing of the road. Now the Supreme Court, accepting the recommendations of commissioner Shekhar Singhs, has met three of Survival's remaining key demands – the withdrawal of encroachers from the tribes' land, an end to logging of their forests and the closure of the Andaman Trunk Road. The order was issued in a petition about logging on tribal lands filed by the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology (SANE), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Kalpavriksh. It has not yet been implemented, but the situation looks extremely positive for the islands' tribes.

Survival Director Stephen Corry said, 'This is excellent news for the Jarawa and the other tribes of the Andaman Islands. The road, loggers and encroachers on their territories brought them death and disease for 30 years. Now, thanks to the Supreme Court, these threats are to be withdrawn. We must now see that the order is implemented properly.'

Click here for more information about the Jarawa.