Thursday, July 8, 2010

On "drastically mainstreaming" the Jarawa

An Indian member of parliament (MP) from the Andamans has caused a furore with his proposals about the Jarawa. He himself is not a tribal.

He observes that the "drastically reduced hostility" between the Jarawa and the "mainstream population" has "emboldened both sides... into frequent meetings". This is in spite of the official policy of "isolation / no contact".

These interactions, the MP says, "are resulting in inculcation of undesirable knowledge and habits as well as injection of race impurity.... [I]f the current policy and treatment continues, it will not take much time in total annihilation of the Jarawa entity."

But the MP's recommendations (PDF) to counter these developments are troubling. He urges that "quick and drastic steps be taken to bring the Jarawa up to the basic mainstream characteristics."

For this he recommends "weaning away" 6-12 year-old Jarawa children to "a normal school atmosphere, where they [will be] very quickly trained in personal hygiene, use of clothes and basic reading and writing skills. They [will] also [be] exposed to eating habits of simple mainstream people and modern amenities such as television and motor vehicles."

He cites examples from the tribes of Jharkhand (including the Birhor) to declare that "the final result was training the entire population into a village identical with any other village of ST [scheduled tribe] population in Jharkhand."

Nor does he stop there. He also advocates that restrictions on construction within the Jarawa reserve be lifted in order to build a railway, and upgrade the highway running through the reserve.

Condemnation of these proposals has been swift and widespread. Survival International, the "movement for tribal peoples", has summarized some of them. The MP's remarks have also sparked off a discussion on the e-group "andamanicobar", including this thought-provoking post by Madhusree Mukerjee.

(Disappointingly, Survival International's otherwise excellent study Progress can kill does not at all mention the role of the state's language policies and medium of education decisions in the decimation of indigenous peoples. For that you will need to go to the e-book by Skutnabb-Kangas and Dunbar mentioned below.)

I recently blogged about the e-book Indigenous Children’s Education as Linguistic Genocide and a Crime Against Humanity? A Global View. See chapter 4 (Examples 15, 20, 29, 30, and 31, for instance) for horrifying descriptions from all over the world of the consequences of such "drastic mainstreaming". An earlier post of mine tells the same tale - of the plight of indigenous children from Meghalaya sent to Karnataka, a 50-hour train journey away, in order to be made into "Hindus".

Let us hope that the uproar within the country and internationally will result in rethinking the MP's proposals about the Jarawa.

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