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Death puts spotlight on 'tribal tourism'

The killing of an American national by members of an endangered tribe in the Andaman islands off India’s east coast has renewed concerns on the surreptitious practice of “tribal tourism” in the archipelago, Omkar Khandekar writes.

The indigenous islanders of North Sentinel, on the list of last of the “uncontacted” tribes on earth, week killed 27-year-old John Allen Chau with arrows when he visited their island last.

Police said that Chau had paid 25,000 rupees ($354; £275) to six local fishermen to take him to North Sentinel. Media reports suggested he wished to introduce the islanders to Christianity.

Andaman houses five “particularly vulnerable” tribes. They’re the Jarawas, North Sentinelese, Great Andamanese, Shompen and onge. The Jarawas and the North Sentinelese haven’t integrated with the mainstream population yet. This makes them a way to obtain intrigue for most of the 500,each year 000 tourists who go to the islands.

Earlier, the Ministry of Home Affairs passed a notification exempting foreign nationals from needing to acquire restricted area permits (RAP) to go to 29 islands in the archipelago.

The list includes nine islands in Nicobar and two in Andaman, occupied by tribal and indigenous communities considered “particularly vulnerable”. Included in this was North Sentinel island also.

But authorities insist tourists will still need to obtain permission from the district authority and the forest department to take action.

The Jarawas reside in a 1,028km forest reserve between your south and middle Andamans. see them

To, many tourists have a two-hour bus ride from Andaman’s capital Port Blair to Baratang that is home to limestone caves and mud volcanoes. To take action, they travel on the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) which cuts through the Jarawa reserves.

In 2013, the Supreme Court banned tourists from taking the ATR following a video shot by way of a journalist showed policemen forcing six Jarawa women to dance for tourists. The court reversed your choice following the state administration submitted a notification promising that no tourist or commercial establishment in your community will be permitted.

“The administration has long prioritised the livelihood of the locals,” says Manish Chandi from the Andaman Nicobar Environment Team, who has been studying the hawaiian islands for days gone by 18 years.

“Following the court’s ruling, it create a ferry to Baratang island from Port Blair. It had been an inspired move. If questioned, they might always say it has made an alternative solution to the street available and the decision now rests on the tourists. But invariably, tourists ‘choose’ the street.”


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There is not any direct link with the North Sentinel islands, which can be found 50km west of the administrative centre Port Blair. Addititionally there is frequent patrolling by the coastguard to help keep intrepid travellers away. Yet, says Mr Chandi, people keep wanting to start to see the North Sentinelese – by bribing local fishermen often.

“In 2013-14, a Mumbai-based businessman on a sports vessel was caught by the coastguard considering the North Sentinelese,” says Mr Chandi.

“Often, yachts carrying foreign tourists go by the hawaiian islands. But the majority are deterred by the coastguard patrol and make certain they don’t really lurk around.”

Officials from the Department of Forest and Wildlife didn’t react to calls by the BBC. But Govind Ram, director of the Department of Tribal Welfare in the hawaiian islands, indicates he could be alert to the cases of tribal tourism.

“It’s true that folks have a fascination to start to see the tribal community,” he says. “We’ve made all arrangements to restrict this from happening. There’s regular patrolling by the authorities and officials from the tribal welfare department.”

But given how big is the certain specific areas designed to be patrolled, he adds, “you will find a chance that miscreants can enter”.

And despite official insistence that foreigners will still have to obtain permission from the district authority and the forest department to go to Jarawa reserves and North Sentinel, conservationists say the scrapping of restricted area permits for these islands sends a sign that they can eventually be opened for tourism.

“Your choice was taken unilaterally, without the consultation with local stakeholders,” said Denis Giles, editor of the neighborhood newspaper Andaman Chronicles. “Rather than taking measures that may result in tribal tourism, the federal government must off continue with the ‘hands, eyes on’ policy it has practised up to now.this month ”

Earlier, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes said the relaxation would have to be “reconsidered”.

Despite its widespread practice and extensive documentation by conservation groups like Survival International, two major tour operators the BBC spoke to denied any instance of tribal tourism in the hawaiian islands.

“I’ve never really had anyone inquire about tribal tourism,” said M Vinod, the elected president of the Andaman Association of Tour Operators, which represents 102 of 176 registered tourism firms in the hawaiian islands.

“Police security is high and movements are strictly regulated while passing through tribal reserves.”

The killing of the united states national, he adds, was just a case of a “security lapse”.

“The relaxation of RAPs is an excellent move for tourism,” he says. And his stand on including islands like North Sentinel?

“It’s around the government to choose which islands it really wants to promote.”