Government and academic differ on reasons for decline
Census data, released by directorate of census operations in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, has revealed that the tribal population of the islands declined by 3.19 per cent in the decade between 2001 and 2011. The overall population on the islands, however, increased by 6.86 per cent. While the government says the 2004 tsunami could be a reason for the decline in population, an anthropologist says that increasing contact with outsiders, which has made the forest dwellers prone to diseases, could be a probable reason. The government has not released tribe-wise data yet.
The main tribes living on different islands are the Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas, Sentinelene, Nicobarese and Shompens. The tribal population on the slands decreased from 29,469 in 2001to 28,530 in 2011—a decrease of 3.19 per cent.
M K Yesodharan, deputy director of census operations in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, attributed the decline to the tsunami. “The tsunami of 2004 could be one reason which shattered these tribals and affected their habitation and demography,” says Yesodharan. At the same time, he also says census of tribals couldn't be conducted properly on many islands.
“Like Sentinelese tribe, they don't allow outsiders. So we counted them from a distance of 1.5 km from sea-shore,” says Yesodharan. “They came out with bows, arrows and other traditional weapons to resist outsiders. We counted them without going into the forest of their island,” adds Yesodharan. The other reason Yesodharan says could be that many among the Nicobarese tribe have settled in cities and do not want to be identified as tribal people; they got themselves registered on the basis of religion.
A K Pandey, who teaches anthropology at Mahatama Gandhi Government College in the Islands, differed from the government official.
“The population of the Jarawas, Sentinelese and Shompens can only could be estimated. They are still hostile to outsiders,” says Pandey. The population of Nicobarese tribe is increasing, which was little affected by tsunami, he says.
Pandey, who has extensively researched the tribes and is in contact with different groups of tribes, says, “Nicobarese tribe came in contact with outsiders and developed and settled in towns and cities. It was assessed that nearly 250 Nicobarese people died in the tsunami, but not a single person from the other tribes is reported to have died.”
The total population of the Union Territory is 380,581 with 202,871 males and 177,710 females. The sex ratio of these islands is recorded at 876 females per 1,000 males; it was 846:1,000 during the 2001 Census.
Greater Nicobari tehsil has the most skewed sex ratio. It has a sex ratio of 665 females for every 1,000 males.
The density of population in the islands increased from 43 to 46 and the literacy rate 86.6 per cent.
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