01April2020

Andaman Chronicle

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Self-Isolation, The Only Way to Safeguard

- Denis Giles

In the wake of Novel Corona Virus (COVID-19) that has created havoc across, affecting millions of lives and world economies, the world today realises ‘Self Isolation’ is the only way to contain the deadly virus. The world never realized until now that this is exactly what the indigenous, un-contacted tribes have been doing since time immemorial.

The Andaman & Nicobar Islands are now in the global map of COVID-19 with ten positive cases confirmed and more expected. It all started with a group of people from the islands who had been to New Delhi for Tabligi Jamaat, only to return with the virus on the last day of flight operations, during the present Lockdown in India. The numbers are expected to increase though measures are in place to trace out people who might have come in contact with the already affected.

While the fear of death looms large over the population of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, it makes one wonder about the indigenous tribes of Andaman Islands who will be subjected to something deadly, without them being aware and for no fault of theirs?

When it comes to the indigenous tribes of Andaman Islands, the first that flashes in mind is the ‘Ang’ tribe popularly known as the Jarawa (a term in Great Andamanese language referring to an outsider). The Ang have been living in isolation in the tropical rain forests of Andaman Islands since 60,000 years along with the other tribes, the Sentinelese, the Onges and the Great Andamanese till the British made way, followed by the Indians. Their ancestors are thought to have been part of the first successful migration out of Africa.

The Ang resisted contact with the growing numbers of Indian settlers on their islands until 1998 but have been under serious threat from poachers who camp for days at a time in their forest, hunting the animals they depend on and bringing disease, violence and exploitation. As a result of contact with the outside world (the Indian Settlers), in 1999 and 2006, Ang suffered outbreaks of measles – a disease that has wiped out many tribes worldwide following contact with outsiders. Later they were subjected to Malaria, another disease that remained alien to them. ‘Fortunate’ were the Ang that the government that spread these diseases also had a solution, thus saving a human race from extinction. 

It was just before the pandemic COVID-19 occurred, the world debated on isolating or mainstreaming of the Ang. The conservationists believed in the way of ‘self-isolation’ chosen by the tribe, while the development oriented focused upon mainstreaming them. Bridges and Jetties were constructed for the convenience of the debaters, without even trying to understand what and why the Ang chose to be the way they are. The Boxing Day of Tsunami of 2004 might have faded away from the minds of the debaters but if one turns back the pages, we would learn that while there were thousands of deaths, it was the Ang and their cousins who remained unaffected. 

The Novel Corona Virus has not only closed these debates for the time being; it has also made the world realise on the need to sit back and think about the cost of development we pay now. The lockdown across the world has also shown us the real picture of Mother Nature, with wild animals reclaiming their land, which we had forgotten while in the race for reaching Mars.

The true guardians of nature have been the ones who have been living with it for thousands of years. They are none others than the indigenous people like the Ang, whose knowledge about nature cannot be ruled out. 

COVID-19 is also one reason why we need to re-think, why the true guardians of nature need to be given a choice of their own which is ‘Self-Isolation’.

  • Written by Denis Giles
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