Editorial Simplified: Protect Indigenous People | GS – I

Relevance: GS Paper I (Indian Society)

Theme of the article

Implementation of the various provisions to protect the tribals of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has been poor.

Why has this issue cropped up?

The debates following the recent alleged killing of an American national, John Allen Chau, by the Sentinelese have put the spotlight on the vulnerability of an indigenous community that has lived for thousands of years with little contact with outsiders.

Tribes in Andaman

  • There are four ancient Negrito tribal communities in the Andaman Islands (the Great Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa and Sentinelese) and two Mongoloid tribal communities in the Nicobar Islands (the Shompen and Nicobarese).
  • Except the Nicobarese, the populations of the other tribes have reduced drastically over the decades.
  • The Andaman Trunk Road, among other projects, has cut into the heart of the Jarawa reserve, which has not only disturbed their ecological environment but also changed their lifestyle and dietary habits and endangered them.
  • The Sentinelese have been more fortunate than the Jarawas, though.

India’s policy towards these tribes

  • The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Regulation (ANPATR), 1956 protected the tribals from outside interference, specified the limits of reserved areas and said no land in a reserved area shall be allotted for agricultural purposes or sold or mortgaged to outsiders..
  • A policy of non-intervention was also proposed by an expert committee on the directions of the Supreme Court.The committee recommended protecting the Jarawas from harmful contact with outsiders, preserving their cultural and social identity, conserving their land and advocated sensitising settlers about the Jarawas.
  • In 2005, the ANPATR was amended. The term of imprisonment as well as the fine were increased.
  • A policy for protecting the Shompen tribes was released only in 2015.
  • The government amended the ANPATR yet again in 2012, creating a buffer zone contiguous to the Jarawa tribal reserve where commercial establishments were prohibited, and regulating tourist operators.
  • In August 2018 the government relaxed the restricted area permit (RAP) for 29 islands in the Andaman and Nicobar, including North Sentinel Island.

International conventions

  • The Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957, of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) insisted on an integrationist approach towards tribal communities. The 1989 convention insisted on a policy of non-intervention.
  • India ratified the 1957 convention but has not ratified the 1989 convention. However, despite not signing it, India tried to tread the path of non-interference.

Has government policies been successful?

  • The Andaman Trunk Road had ensured increased interaction with the tribals. In the case of the Jarawas, this had led to the spread of diseases, sexual exploitation, and begging.
  • Despite all these amendments and provisions, there continue to be numerous reports of civilian intrusion into the Jarawa tribal reserve.
  • If the government has decided to ease the restrictions in a phased manner, this could adversely affect the indigenous population in the long run.
  • Such commercialisation of tribal spaces could lead to encroachment of land, as we see in other parts of the country.

Way forward

  • Considering the significance of the indigenous tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the government needs to reorient its priorities towards protecting them from outside influence.
  • India needs to sign the 1989 convention of the ILO, and implement its various policies to protect the rights of the indigenous population.
  • India should also make efforts to sensitise settlers and outsiders about them.


That Chau was helped in his journey shows a lack of understanding about the Sentinelese. Only concrete efforts can prevent such an incident from happening again.