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Sentinelese in shadows: A lesson in letting live

Sumit Mukherjee, a former Anthropological Survey of India researcher, who specialises in human ecology, questioned whether these tribes need “our kind of development”?

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Missionary John Chau North Sentinel Island

New Delhi, Dec 1 : John Allen Chau, a 26-year-old American missionary who “illegally” paddled his way to the remote shores of North Sentinel Island in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, was recently killed by the protected Sentinelese tribe. Experts apprehend that his “trespassing” to contact the North Sentinel islanders, the “uncontacted” and “isolated” inhabitants, may have further endangered the existence of the bow-wielding natives.

Survival International, a global movement for the rights of tribal people, dubbed their rebuffing contact with the outside world a “wise choice”.

“Neighbouring tribes were wiped out after the British colonised their islands, and they lack immunity to common diseases like flu or measles, which would decimate their population,” it said in a statement.

After Chau’s death, the Andaman and Nicobar Police noted that “access to the North Sentinel Island and its buffer zone is strictly restricted under the Protection of Aboriginal Tribe (Regulation) 1956 and Regulations under Indian Forest Act 1927” and “the Ministry of Home Affairs through its recent circulars also restricts movements of foreigners in these areas”.

“This is a wake-up call for the so called ‘foreign adventurists’ to stop entering ‘out of bounds’ and ‘non-permissible’ areas for the sake of encountering ‘exoticism’,” said Professor Anvita Abbi, a veteran linguist who has studied the tribal languages of the Andamans.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are inhabited by six indigenous tribal populations. The Nicobar Islands are home to two ‘Mongoloid’ tribes — the Shompen and Nicobarese.

Of the dozen linguistically distinct tribes who populated the Andaman islands in the early 20th century, only four survive, the Sentinelese, Jarawa, Great Andamanese, and Onge, with a combined population of 400 to 500 individuals.

They are believed to have arrived in the islands from Africa up to 60,000 years ago. The Sentinelese population is placed at a scant and contested 15 according to the 2011 Census of India.

The Andamanese earned a reputation for ferocity due to their violent resistance to foreign intrusions. They remained comparatively isolated from the outside world until the establishment of a British penal settlement in the islands, after the of First War of Independence in 1857.

The British befriended one of the tribes, the Great Andamanese, and employed them as bush police to recapture escaped convicts. The Great Andamanese suffered the brunt of colonialism, and, in the 19th and 20th centuries, their number collapsed from several hundreds to a few dozen individuals.

“Any outsider-contact has brought diseases, subjugation, sexual assault, and ultimately decimation of the tribal culture, tribal life and tribal language. The standing example is Great Andamanese. For years, Jarawas maintained the same isolation and now they regret the interaction with us,” explained Abbi.

The notion of “hostility” is a “colonial construct”, as Kanchan Mukhopadhyay, a former Anthropological Survey of India researcher, who was stationed in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, put it, and is a licence to kill.

Madhumala Chattopadhyay, an anthropologist, was the first one to make a friendly contact during an expedition of the Andaman administration with the Sentinelese in January 1991, also advocates leaving them alone. She was also a part of the second contact expedition of the Andaman administration that made a friendly contact with them in February 1991.

In the aftermath of the Chau affair, Survival International has flayed the Indian government for lapses in protection and for easing the restricted area permit (RAP) to visit 29 inhabited islands, including North Sentinel.

These islands, which were removed from the Restricted Area Permit (RAP) regime notified under the Foreigners (Restricted Areas) Order, 1963, till December 31, 2022, included the North Sentinel Island.

However, the government had clarified that separate approvals of the competent authority would continue to be required for visiting reserved forests, wildlife sanctuaries and tribal reserves.

The exotic location and the tourism potential of the islands has for long been a topic of discussion and on the central government’s agenda. In June 2017, an Island Development Agency (IDA) headed by India’s home minister was constituted and Indian government’s think tank, NITI Aayog, was mandated to steer the holistic development of Islands programme.

Under this programme, in the first phase, it was decided that 10 Islands in the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep will be taken up for holistic development.

The IDA had reviewed 11 anchor tourism projects of which six are in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. For enhanced connectivity, the airport at Diglipur in Andamans is expected to be made operational for civilian aircraft by December 2018.

In August 2018, NITI Aayog’s Chief Executive Officer Amitabh Kant, while speaking at an investors’ conference on developing new islands, remarked that Indian government was looking to offer about 100 islands in the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep for tourism purposes. He had also stated that foreign tourists would not need separate permission to visit these islands as the government is focusing on increasing the tourism inflow.

During the same month, India’s home ministry announced that foreign tourists will now be able to visit 29 inhabited islands in the, which were prohibited for visitors, without any restrictions and 11 uninhabited islands (only for day visits).

The decision, the government said, was taken to promote tourism and overall development of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Port Blair, which is capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, on December 30 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the first flag hoisting day by Indian revolutionary Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose (December 30, 1943) on Indian soil.

It was reported that Modi is expected to announce major projects but it may not happen in the wake of the criticism against opening up of areas in the Andamans after Chau’s death. According to a report, the home ministry may consider reimposing the restricted area permit system in North Sentinel island and other islands.

Sumit Mukherjee, a former Anthropological Survey of India researcher, who specialises in human ecology, questioned whether these tribes need “our kind of development”?

“The ‘development’ planning we have so far done for them since our contact with them (tribes in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago) have sadly resulted in more damage than welfare to their society. So we should agree that we have failed to understand what is effective development for them. They never asked for it,” Mukherjee said.

“What I recommend is we should keep close and careful watch to save every life of those populations and may provide required protective measures and certain carefully prescribed medical services if absolutely required,” Sumit Mukherjee added.

(In arrangement with Mongabay.com, a source for environmental news reporting and analysis. The views expressed in the article are those of Mongabay.com. Feedback: [email protected])

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US bill over reciprocity of access to Tibet awaits Trump’s signature

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travel access to Tibet

Chicago, Dec 13 : The unanimous passage of a bill that insists on reciprocity between the US and China over travel access to Tibet is seen as a clear message that the US Congress is sending to Beijing about the situation in Tibet.

The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which deals with “the level of access Chinese authorities granted US diplomats, journalists, and tourists to Tibetan areas in China”, seeks to deny admission to Chinese officials who prevent Americans from visiting Tibet.

It says, “The State Department shall report to Congress annually, identifying individuals who were blocked from US entry during the preceding year and a list of Chinese officials who were substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies to restrict the access of US diplomats, journalists, and citizens to Tibetan areas.”

The bill now awaits signature by President Donald Trump to become law. Its passage was a result of a nearly four years of efforts by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and other Tibetan groups under the leadership of ICT chair and Hollywood star Richard Gere, a passionate activist and a committed Buddhist, as well as its president Matteo Mecacci.

Asked how optimistic he is about Trump signing the bill into law, especially at a time when his administration is engaged in a tense trade war with Beijing, Mecacci told IANS in an interview via email, “The overwhelming support shown by the US Congress for this bill, which passed unanimously both in the House and the Senate, is sending a very clear message to the Chinese government that the American people care deeply about the situation inside Tibet, and are concerned about the isolation that China has imposed.”

He said this bill is about the “principle of reciprocity that complements the Trump Administration’s policy”. “The State Department has also conveyed, during a hearing in the Senate, that it shares the goals of the bill and will implement it. We are confident that President Trump will take all these elements into account, when it comes to signing the bill into law,” Mecacci said.

On how, once it becomes law, it might impact US-China relations in the specific context of Tibet, he said, “The State Department, which on December 4 expressed official support for the goals of the legislation and plans to implement it, will have to assess the level of access to Tibet for American citizens and identify the Chinese officials who are responsible for blocking access, and eventually denying them visas to the United States.

“This is about reciprocity and fairness, and it is very important that the United States challenges China’s policy not only on trade or economic issues, but also on civil and human rights, such us freedom of movement, freedom of information and the rule of law,” he said.

President Trump has not been known to pay particular attention to Tibet. It is questionable whether he is aware of the historic complexities of the problem. Given that, it has not been clear how he might approach the bill waiting for his signature.

However, Mecacci is optimistic. “As I mentioned, the US Administration has been following this bill very closely and supports its goals. In general, the Trump Administration has already issued a report on the status of Tibet negotiations in May 2018 in which it has outlined its position on the Tibetan issue.”

On whether the bill may become a sort of political football in the trade dispute, he said, “This legislation was introduced in Congress well before the beginning of the Trump Administration and of the trade dispute with China. For decades, the US Congress and US Administrations have supported the aspiration of the Tibetan people to a better life. This will continue beyond a trade dispute. Since it is about American interest, we do not see how this can be impacted by the trade dispute.”

(Mayank Chhaya is a senior journalist of Indian origin based in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected])

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Blow to BJP ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls – News Analysis

In the first instance of a party getting majority on its own in 30 years, BJP won 282 seats in Lok Sabha in 2014. The BJP-led NDA had won 336 seats out of 543.

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Congress workers Karnataka civic polls

The results in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan came as a major shock for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has won all the major states barring Delhi, Bihar, Punjab and Karnataka in elections held after the sweeping 2014 Lok Sabha victory.

The BJP was routed in Chhattisgarh and defeated in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in closely-fought contests. The party mostly banked on the image of Chief Ministers Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan to lift the party’s fortunes.

In Rajasthan, where opinion polls had written off the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah put in extra efforts, besides banking on the hardcore Hindutva image of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, to take the battle to the Congress, but still lost.

The BJP, however, managed to open its account in Mizoram, where the Mizo National Front (MNF) ousted the ruling Congress partty, but saw its numbers fall from five to one in Telangana, where the Telangana Rashtra Samithi swept the polls.

The results of these five states, which were dubbed the semifinals ahead of the next general elections in April-May 2019, could be a factor in the battle between the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Congress-led opposition.

The major issues raked up by Congress, specially the farm loan waiver amid an agrarian crisis across the country, employment and anger among upper caste, seems to have worked in its favour and could haunt the ruling dispensation if remedial measures are not taken.

The BJP is not ready, however, to accept the defeat as a referendum on the Modi government.

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said issues in state elections are entirely different. The BJP won Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2003 but lost the Lok sabha elections next year, he pointed out.

The general elections in 2019, he added, would be fought around Modi’s performance, with people voting for a tried and tested leadership instead of a non-ideological opposition coalition which is bound to collapse sooner than later.

The Congress, which had a disastrous performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and suffered successive defeats in various Assembly elections, smiled for the first time after defeating the BJP in a direct contest in the three crucial states in north India.

Party president Rahul Gandhi, who campaigned vigorously, said the Assembly election results were a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s non-performance on issues of unemployment, agrarian distress, corruption and negating the ill-effects of demonetisation.

Out of total 678 Assembly seats in the five states in the current round of elections, the Congress has won close to 300 seats while the BJP managed to win over 200 seats. In the 2013 Assembly polls, the BJP had won 377 seats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram while the Congress had won only 122 seats in these states.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had won 62 out of total 83 Lok Sabha constituencies of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. Now the three Hindi heartland states will be ruled by Congress and the its impact would definitely be felt in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

In the first instance of a party getting majority on its own in 30 years, BJP won 282 seats in Lok Sabha in 2014. The BJP-led NDA had won 336 seats out of 543.

Its allies include the Shiv Sena, which has been on the war path for a while. Similarly, N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) have walked out of the NDA.

Since 2014, BJP has managed to retain just six Lok Sabha seats in by-polls. It won Lakhimpur in Assam, Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh, Beed and Palghar in Maharashtra, Vadodara in Gujarat and Shimoga in Karnataka.

In the last four years, the party has lost Lok Sabha by polls in Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh, Gurdaspur in Punjab, Alwar and Ajmer in Rajasthan, Kairana, Phulpur and Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, Bhandara-Gondiya in Maharashtra and Bellary and Mandya constituencies in Karnataka.

The BJP, however, maintained the verdict was a mandate against the state governments and not against the Modi government.

“The results in five states clearly show there is no uniform trend across the country and local factors determined the outcome in each state. This is evident from the fact that even Congress suffered massive defeats in Mizoram and Telangana.

“Despite 15 years of anti-incumbancy in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP has put up a fight in Madhya Pradesh and has a major comeback in Rajasthan. The BJP’s and Congress’ vote share in both the states in Mandhya Pradesh and Rajasthan is almost tied which clearly show that the BJP has the potential to comeback with big victories in 2019 Lok Sabha polls,” BJP Spokeperson G.V. L. Narsimha Rao told IANS.

He also said whenever Congress has tied up with a regional party, it cost them votes.

(Brajendra Nath Singh can be contacted at [email protected])

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Verdict in Hindi heartland states gives Congress hope for 2019 – News Analysis

The outcome is expected to energize the Congress rank and file who have been largely starved of election victories since its 2014 debacle. The latest victory is the first time since 2014 when the Congress has defeated the BJP in a straight contest.

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Rahul Gandhi

The Congress recorded its best-ever performance against the BJP since the disastrous 2014 Lok Sabha polls capturing power in the three Hindi heartland states and reviving its hopes in the next general elections. But the outcome has also sent signals that defeating the BJP nationally may not be an easy task.

Except for Chhattisgarh, where the party won a two-thirds majority, the results were not as resounding as the Congress would have liked, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where it failed to cross the half-way mark on its own by just two seats.

It lost power in Mizoram, the only northeastern state it had, and was routed in Telangana where its decision to go with the Telugu Desam Party evidently boomeranged.

The verdict, with the Congress poised to form governments in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, coincided with the first anniversary of Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as party chief, raising his stature as a leader and enhancing his image as a serious politician.

The outcome is expected to energize the Congress rank and file who have been largely starved of election victories since its 2014 debacle. The latest victory is the first time since 2014 when the Congress has defeated the BJP in a straight contest.

Questions remain if the verdict is strong enough to dent the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an effective campaigner and communicator but it is likely to give some confidence to Congress workers that the party has a chance to turn the tables if there is a “Modi versus Rahul” contest in 2019.

The outcome will strengthen the position of the Congress in the emerging alliance of opposition parties to take on the BJP-led alliance in 2019 and increase worries of Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah in the Hindi heartland states where the BJP won most seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha battle.

The Congress has performed well as a challenger but has found it hard to defend its incumbent governments.

The results showed that the Congress can build its campaign around the issues of agrarian distress, unemployment, demonetization, corruption, security of women, Goods and Services Tax (GST), autonomy of institutions and “misuse” of investigative agencies.

The outcome has given the opportunity to Congress to pose a challenge to the BJP though it would be an uphill challenge to implement its promise of farm loan waivers. It had attacked the BJP governments in the states and the Centre on the issue.

Rahul Gandhi ran an energetic campaign since the announcement of polls in the five states in October and held 62 rallies, targeting Modi in every meeting.

He addressed 19 public meetings and held one roadshow in Chhattisgarh, 25 public meetings and four road shows in Madhya Pradesh, 19 public meetings and two roadshows in Rajasthan, 17 public meetings in Telangana and two rallies in Mizoram.

Gandhi was able to effect an organisational coherence in the poll-bound states, overcoming one of the party’s weaknesses.

He made organisational changes and put Kamal Nath as party chief in faction-ridden Madhya Pradesh. The decision was made in April, barely seven months before the Assembly polls leaving the new state chief little time to build his campaign.

The results are expected to lead to questions in the Congress if its decision not to project a Chief Ministerial candidate was the best strategy.

The BJP’s strong performance in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh despite anti-incumbency apparently shows that the 2019 election will need a much more sustained effort by the Congress to dislodge the Modi government.

Though the Congress won more seats than BJP in both these states, the two parties have nearly the same vote share.

The victory of TRS in Telangana has boosted the profile of state Chief Minister K. Chanrasekhar Rao who has pledged to form a third front that does not include BJP or Congress. This could counter the efforts of his rival, TDP leader and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, to bring opposition parties, including Congress, on one platform.

The Congress could not win a full majority in Rajasthan, falling short by two seats in a cyclical rotation in which both BJP and Congress have been forming governments alternately in the last 20 years.

In Madhya Pradesh, where BJP has been in power for the past 15 years, it could not secure a thumping majority like it did in the neighbouring Chhattisgarh and is all set to form a government with the support of BSP and SP.

In Chhattisgarh, it won after parting ways with former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi who floated his own party.

Gandhi has indicated that the Congress will continue to build its campaign in the Lok Sabha elections around the issues it raised during the Assembly polls. He has also said that the opposition parties will unitedly fight the polls.

With the opposition unlikely to project a Prime Ministerial candidate, the BJP is likely to play this to its advantage in the Lok Sabha elections by making it “Modi versus who” battle.

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