India 'human safaris' threaten ancient tribe: campaign group

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The Independent Online

Indian travel companies are running "human safari tours" to enable tourists to glimpse members of a rare and endangered tribe with whom contact is illegal, a campaign group said Wednesday.

Survival International, which campaigns on behalf of tribal groups worldwide, said it had found eight travel groups on India's tropical Andaman Islands promoting tours to see the indigenous Jarawa people.

Under Indian laws designed to protect ancient tribal groups susceptible to outside influence and disease, photographing or coming into contact with the Jarawa is illegal.

"The Jarawa people lived successfully on their island without contact with outsiders for probably about 55,000 years, until 1998," Survival's director Stephen Corry said in a statement.

"They call themselves the Ang, which means human being, yet they are being ogled at like animals in a game reserve."

Four of the eight travel companies identified by Survival have since removed references to Jarawa tours on their websites, but four have persisted despite government warnings, it said.

The group said the trips put the tribe, thought to have been among the first people to migrate successfully from Africa to Asia, "at serious risk of disease."

The Jarawa number about 320 and live a nomadic existence in the forests. They are thought to have little or no immunity to common illnesses.

The Andaman and Nicobar islands, India's eastern-most territories more than 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the mainland in the Indian Ocean, are home to a number of rare and endangered tribes that face increasing pressures.

In February, Survival announced that the last speaker of "Bo", one of the 10 Great Andamanese languages, had died aged 85.

The lush, tropical islands with white sand beaches and forests are fast-developing as a tourist destination.

Italian oil group ENI is also prospecting for oil and gas in the area amid other economic developments.

A road has been built that travels through the Jarawa homeland, which Survival is also campaigning against.

"Survival is urging the Indian government to close the road immediately, and to stop intruders trespassing on the Jarawa's land," it said.

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