Two videos offer fresh proof of official involvement in “human safaris” to see the protected Jarawa tribe of the Andaman Islands. A three minutes and 19 seconds clip, shot on a mobile phone, shows half-naked girls from the tribe dancing for a seated Indian police officer. A second, shorter, clip again focuses on a girl’s nudity, while men in military uniform mill around.
The new evidence comes as authorities in Orissa State set an example to their counterparts in the Andamans by moving swiftly to end human safaris to see the Bonda tribe.
The Indian government had ordered both sets of officials to take swift action to investigate and prevent abuse.
In an interview last week, Indian Minister of Tribal Affairs V. Kishore Chandra Deo said exploitation by outsiders had to be stopped.
A preliminary report quickly commissioned by the Orissa government concluded that the Bonda needed greater protection. Officials suggested that tourists would in future be banned from photographing the tribe and all cameras would have to be deposited with officials before they could enter the area. Two tour operators have already been charged with selling tribal tours “in an obscene manner.”
Police in the Andamans have repeatedly denied any involvement in human safaris after an Observer investigation last month found evidence that officers had accepted bribes to allow tourists to meet and film the Jarawa. A video of young Jarawa women being ordered to dance in return for food caused outrage in India and around the world.
However, the new videos raise fresh questions about the complicity of officers who are supposed to be protecting the tribe.
An off-camera voice at the start of the longer clip is heard to tell the girls: “Dance.” Initially, the camera is focused on the breasts of the oldest girl. A few second later, the man tells the girls: “Move back, move back a little, a little more.” They do, until they are all in shot. The girls are young, wearing red string skirts and jewelry. “Do it,” the voice tells them, and they start to dance again, swaying their hips and clapping.
Halfway through, the camera pans round briefly to show a police officer sitting by the side of the road, watching.
The second video is less structured and shows a group of young Jarawa being filmed with military personnel. The camera points first at a bare-breasted girl. A male voice, off camera, tells her, isko to de (“at least give me that”), which prompts her to run to protect her basket of belongings. The clip ends with a male voice saying, chal chal (“get lost”).
The words are spoken in Hindi. The speakers are, it appears, members of the Indian defense forces. Neither video is date-stamped, but the longer one is understood to have surfaced about two months ago in Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The Indian government ordered a crackdown on human safaris after the London-based Observer revealed that hundreds of tourists drove through the Jarawa jungle every day on the Andaman trunk road, taking photos of the tribe and throwing them fruit, biscuits and other snacks.
The Jarawa are believed to have lived on the islands for tens of thousands of years, but did not make contact with outsiders until about 14 years ago.
Campaigners say police are heavily involved in abusing the trust of the Jarawa. Six years ago, a report for the Indian government’s powerful National Advisory Council, chaired by Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress party, warned about the sexual exploitation of Jarawa women and the involvement of police. Despite reports of Jarawa girls being seen entering police huts at night, no action was taken.