Victims of modernisation

Tribal communities of Andaman and Nicobar Islands face extinction

Published: Sunday 15 August 1999

The relentless drive towards blanket modernisation is proving to be the death knell for six tribes that inhabit the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The islands are home to the Great Andamanese, the Onge, the Jarawas, the Sentinelse, the Nicobarese and the Shompens.

According to Kalpavriksh, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), a vast treasure house of ethno-botanical knowledge will be lost if this trend is not reversed. The organisation had conducted a six-month-long study in the islands in 1998, on behalf of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

At a lecture-cum-demonstration organised by the BNHS at Pune recently, Pankaj Sekhsaria of Kalpavriksh pointed out that the tribal population is declining and is poised to be wiped out.

He added the tribals were feeling the pressure of widespread deforestation that is being carried out to accommodate settlers and feed the flourishing timber industry. The NGO alleged that an official tribal welfare body, Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti, has introduced welfare measures that are totally in variance with the traditional lifestyle of the Onges. The samiti , the NGO adds, offers each adult Onge 250 grams of tobacco as a 'welfare' measure. Modern contact has also led to the introduction of alcohol and many Onges have become addicted to it, alleges Sekhsaria.

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