To protect or to prosecute: Andaman police in dilemma over a child's murder in protected Jarawa tribe

Police and administration in a South Andaman Island are caught in a situation where they have to decide between the constitutional perspective: “Nobody is above the law” and  maintaining the “purity and sanctity of the society” of the isolated Jarawa tribe. 

Last Updated: Mar 15, 2016, 12:47 PM IST
To protect or to prosecute: Andaman police in dilemma over a child's murder in protected Jarawa tribe
Photo: AP

New Delhi: The police and the local administration in a South Andaman Island are caught in a situation where they have to decide between the constitutional perspective - “Nobody is above the law” and  maintaining the “purity and sanctity of the society” of the isolated Jarawa tribe.

The Jarawa's are considered as India's last remnant of a Paleolithic-era civilization. Local police and authorities have clear instructions from their top bosses to interfere as little as possible in the traditional life of the tribe.  

According to a report in the New York Times, the Jarawas, who number about 400 and whom one geneticist described as “arguably the most enigmatic people on our planet,” are believed to have migrated from Africa around 50,000 years ago. They are very dark-skinned, small in stature and, until 1998, lived in complete cultural isolation, shooting outsiders with steel-tipped arrows if they came too near.

Now, as to avoid catastrophes that befell aboriginal people in other countries like US and Australia, India has also decided to minimise the 'contact' with the tribe. But the tribe's gradual 'contact' with the outside world is happening and the latest incident of such 'contact' came to light when an unmarried Jarawa girl gave birth to a comparatively light-skinned boy.

The incident was a clear indicator that outside genes had found their way into an undiluted gene pool.

The tribe has a tradition of killing all the children who are born to widows or are fathered by outsiders.  

The report, which quotes Dr. Ratan Chandra Kar, a government physician who wrote a memoir about his work with the Jarawas, mentions about a tradition in which newborn babies were breastfed by each of the tribe’s lactating women before being strangled by one of the tribal elders so as to maintain “the so-called purity and sanctity of the society.”

As per the tradition, this boy was also killed to safeguard the tribe's undiluted gene pool.

But unlike past such incidents, this time, the matter was reported to the police as witnesses came forward and narrated the incident.

Almost five months after birth, the child went missing from a hospital near the reserve area. The mother and a hospital attendant saw a man from the tribe carrying the child. The child was later found buried in the sand.

Almost five months have passed since the incident took place in November last year, but the case has not moved an inch forward. Despite having eyewitnesses, the police are in a fix over what to do - safeguarding the complainant's legal rights or the tribe's sanctity.