Survival Alert: India’s Human Zoo and Why It Must Be Stopped

Human-hunting safaris degrade the humanity of tourists and Jawara Tribe alike.

Jarawa tribal people of India have lived for centuries by hunting and gathering; currently, their way of life is being threatened by tourist incursions. (Photo: © Survival)

Dec 3, 2012

Survival Alert is a fortnightly update on the state of indigenous peoples around the world from Survival International. Founded in 1969, Survival International is the globe’s foremost organization working for tribal peoples rights.

Expectant visitors to India’s Andaman Islands have every right to anticipate an archipelago surrounded by crystal waters, a stunning coastline and inlands brimming with fertile forests. But do they have the right to expect an itinerary that includes a “human safari”?

Sadly, a human rights scandal has engulfed the Islands after unscrupulous tour operators were found to be exploiting the Jarawa tribe, by taking hundreds of tourists through their reserve to stare at them. Some operators even made members of the tribe dance in return for sweets and biscuits.

Survival International originally exposed the outrage in 2010. More recently, a U.K. journalist obtained video footage confirming that the notorious practice of human safaris was still happening—and that officials were intimately involved.

MORE: Do Tribal People Have a Future? Exclusive Q&A

The recording of semi-naked women being ordered to dance provided concrete evidence that the practice of human safaris existed, and that Jarawa tribe women were being treated like Victorian circus attractions.

The news went viral and shocked the world.

One tourist commented, “It was like a safari, we were looking for wild animals—Jarawa tribals to be specific.”

The Jarawa’s ancestors are thought to have been part of the first successful human migrations out of Africa more than 55,000 years ago. They hunt pig and monitor lizard, fish with bows and arrows, and gather seeds, berries and honey. They are also nomadic, living in bands of 40 to 50 people. It was only in 1998 that some Jarawa started coming out of their forest to visit nearby settlements for the first time.

In recent years, the tribe, which numbers around 400 people, has been treated like animals in a zoo. Many tourists were specifically told by operators to attend the tours with fruits and biscuits, which they then used to attract tribespeople to the vehicles, in order to take photos and videos.

One tourist commented, “It was like a safari, we were looking for wild animals—Jarawa tribals to be specific.”

The Andaman Trunk Road cuts directly through the Jarawa’s territory. (Photo: © Gethin Chamberlain/Survival)

Unwelcome intrusions into the Jarawa’s lives first began in the 1970s, when the Indian government forced a road, known as the Andaman Trunk Road, through their territory. Workers were met with a hail of arrows. They continued, nevertheless, to ignore this obvious hostility from the tribe, some of whom died defending their land against the settlers. 

Today, that same road brings hundreds of commuters and tourists to the heart of the reserve. Sadly, many of the visitors who drive along it view the Jarawa as exotic curiosities or sex objects.

But there is still hope for the Jarawa tribe. The campaign has already seen important successes—the government abandoned its disastrous plans to forcibly settle the Jarawa. Intense media pressure in the wake of the shocking video of the Jarawa women means that the government is more likely to listen to those who care.

Survival, along with local organisations, has been campaigning for the Andaman Trunk Road to be closed so that the Jarawa can live their lives in dignity, free from those who wish to exploit them as entertainment. The proposed road closure is not in order to isolate the tribe, but to give it the chance to choose how and when it has contact with outsiders and to give tribespeople control over their own lives and futures.

Please visit Survival’s website to learn more about the Jarawa so you can help end human safaris once and for all.

Do people have a basic human right to not be exploited as tourist attractions? Discuss in COMMENTS.

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