The Andaman Islands have had a turbulent history. As the colonial Alcatraz of Bengal, India and the local habitation for an indigenous Aboriginal population, the islands were a political hub of freedom fighters, imprisoned for struggling against British imperialists. And despite 65 years since India’s independence, a comparable form of oppression is apparent on the land mass: modern day slavery composing of “human safaris.”
The Guardian and the Observer have recently released footage exposing tour operators in Andaman coercing semi- nude women from the Jarawa tribe to entertain paying tourists in exchange for food, as part of a “human safari” package. Under the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation, 1956, the Jarawa tribe have opted for strict isolation from outside contact due to risk of disease, ethnocide and evident exploitation, continued from a long tradition on the Andamans.
Perhaps “safari” is a misleading term, with tourists and operators alike physically and verbally interacting with the tribe. The ‘zoo’ in which the ethnic women were exhibited to the public for entertainment, subjected the women to having bananas thrown at them. And the island still hosts the most infamous cage in the shape of the Cellular Jail (Kala Pani,) which raises the question-how far has the island come in terms of its discriminatory past?
The exploitation is reminiscent of the abusive mentality that exists on the Andamans, despite the many years that have passed. As a remote isle, Andaman is an ideal location for India’s Guantanamo Bay; isolated from the mainland and the solitary cells bear a stark resemblance to the confinements in which animals are enclosed in.
And perchance Andaman may never shake off its stigma as a remote and brutal land mass; with the ghosts of its prisoners and political ideologies still haunting the islands.
(In memory of Ananda Prasad Gupta (d. 2005), the youngest political activist to be imprisoned in Cellular Jail, Andaman as well as a close family friend; and Ramesh Chandra Dutta (d. 2006) a literary and political freedom fighter in addition to being my beloved grandfather.)