Written by Talent KAS

Related Topics: Culture, Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG)


  • Nine months ago, American national John Allen Chau was allegedly killed by the Sentinelese on the North Sentinel Island of Andaman and Nicobar islands.
  • A recent publication by the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) throws more light on the incident and also the ways of one of the most isolated tribes in the world.

What is in the new report?

  • The paper titled ‘The Sentinelese of the North Sentinel Island: A reprisal of Tribal Scenario in an Andaman Islandin context of Killing of an American Preacher was published in the journal of AnSI.
  • It discusses in detail the “mission” of the American national, the possibility of retrieval of the dead body and also the charge of murder which the police in the Andamans have pressed against “unknown tribal members of Sentinelese Community”.
  • In March 1896, three convicts escaped from Andaman and drifted to the North Sentinel Island where they tried to escape in a raft made of bamboo. While two of them drowned, the third person was speared to death by the tribal people.
  • In January 2006, when two fishermen, Sunder Raj and Pandit Tiwari, were reportedly killed by the Sentinelese when they were illegally collecting mud crabs in the protected area.
  • Chau was guided by some kind of “pathological curiosity” which led him to visit the island despite knowing the consequences.
  • Chau’s journal was an extremely important anthropological document, which should be preserved.

Hands off, Eyes on approach

  • The study emphasises on the “Hands off, Eyes on” approach of the administration towards the Sentinelese.
  • It recommends that circumnavigation of the island should be carried out to keep a vigil to ward off and report on any attempt by outsiders to stray into the territory.
  • It is important to make systematic observations of the Sentinelese and their territory from a distance.

Sentinelese Tribe

  • They are negrito tribe, who live on the North Sentinel Island of the Andamans.
  • They are connected to the Jarawa on the basis of physical, as well as linguistic similarities.
  • They the only remaining tribe in the Andamans to still maintain their isolation from the rest of the world and live like hunter gatherers.
  • Based on carbon dating of kitchen middens by the Anthropological Survey of India, Sentinelese presence was confirmed in the islands to 2,000 years ago.
  • Genome studies indicate that the Andaman tribes could have been on the islands even 30,000 years ago.

How are they protected?

  • The Govt. of India issued the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation, 1956 to declare the traditional areas occupied by the tribes as reserves, and prohibited entry of all persons except those with authorisation.
  • Apart from the land territory the coastal sea up to fixed extent of 1 Km to 5 Km abutting the tribal territory has also been notified as tribal reserve so that marine resources like fish, turtle etc are available exclusively for the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs).
  • The Government has adopted an ‘eyes-on and hands-off’ practice to protect and safeguard the Sentinelese tribe.
  • A protocol of circumnavigation of the North Sentinel Island has been notified.
  • Photographing or filming the tribe members is also an offence.

How many are there?

  • From 1901 to 1921 they were estimated to be 117
  • In 1931, the number dropped to 50.
  • In 1991 their head count was put at 23.
  • Census 2001 counted 39

Issues faced by the tribals

  • Attempts to “civilise tribes”: These tribes have faced social disintegration among them with cultural erosion in the wake of contacts.
  • Spread of diseases: Some expeditions to establish contact with these tribes have led to spread contagious diseases among them.
  • Natural Disasters: The islands inhabitated by these tribes are often faced with natural disasters such as the Tsunami of 2004.
  • Tourist Influx: Unsustainable and exploitative tourist influx in the region has led to serious problems for these tribes and for the region.
  • Loss of food: Loss of forests, overfishing, etc. has diminished their food sources.

Way Forward

  • Efforts must be made to ensure that their customs, languages, religious practises etc. are not lost as a result of outside influence.
  • Specific issues like natural disasters, endemic diseases such as anaemia, etc. must be addressed.
  • The policy of non-intervention should continue and at the same time the ‘eyes-on’ policy has to be implemented strictly.
  • Rigorous awareness programme among the fishermen is required as the American tourist, who was killed recently, took the help of local fishermen to reach the island.

[Source: The Hindu, PIB]


About the author

Talent KAS

Leave a Comment

The maximum upload file size: 750 MB.
You can upload: image, document, text.