NCST against draft policy on protection of Nicobar tribe
New Delhi: National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has objected to the draft policy on protection of fast-depleting Shom Pen tribe of the Nicobar Islands, saying that a proposal for restricting outside intervention in life and culture of the tribe would not be in its best interest.
The Commission also noted that the draft policy was in "digression" from the objectives of the government's proposed national tribal policy, which aimed at accelerating the pace of development in remote tribal areas with a view to bringing them into the mainstream.
Ministry of Tribal Affairs had recently formulated a draft policy for the protection and welfare of the primitive Shom Pen tribe in order to give its members status of "unique human heritage" of the country.
The policy proposes restrictions on "outside intervention in the life and culture" of the tribe and inclusion of a provision in the 1956 Regulation to provide "deterrent punishment" to persons entering the Shom Pen reserve and buffer areas without a "tribal pass".
The Commission observed that the thrust of the draft policy was directed at "banning" outside intervention in the life and culture of Shom Pen tribe and a view was also expressed that if it was not done, their way of living would die.
"The Commission share this concern, but at the same time feel that while any obtrusive intervention that might interfere with their (Shom pen's) habitat and way of living should not be allowed, it would not be in their best interest to withhold support and assistance which would help them survive extinction," Commission noted.
It underlined that the history of human civilisation was a chronicle of transition from "barbarism to civilised way of life" through the development of science and technology and suggested that the case of Shom Pens and other primitive tribal groups of the Nicobar Islands should be seen "in the light of this perception".
"We cannot afford to make human beings mere living specimens of our heritage in the name of preservation of culture... the proposed policy of almost complete isolation was justified only to the limited extent of protecting them from undesirable exploitation," it observed.
The Commission suggested that instead of keeping Shom Pens entirely dependent on forest for livelihood, they may also be introduced to settled agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry.
Efforts may also be made to provide education to children of the vulnerable tribe in special residential schools where every need of the children should be fulfilled free of cost, it added.
Shom Pen is one of the "most isolated and poorly understood" contemporary hunter and gatherer tribe that inhabits the southernmost island of the Nicobar Archipelago. They live in about 12 habitations made of bamboo and leaf thatch.