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India's Shame: Tribal Exploitation

For the record, the two videos now placed on youtube by Gethin Chamberlain:

A video circulating among tour operators in the Andaman Islands. Released by Gethin Chamberlain in response to police attempts to play down my report on the abuse of the Jarawa tribe. This is one of many such videos in circulation. It was filmed on a mobile phone.

Footage of Jarawa tribe dancing in return for food, Andaman Islands. The footage is circulating among tour operators. It accompanied a report in The Observer by Gethin Chamberlain, and the video first appeared on the Guardian website:

"Dance," the policeman instructed. The girls in front of him, naked from the waist up, obeyed. A tourist's camera panned round to another young woman, also naked and awkwardly holding a bag of grain in front of her. "Dance for me," the policeman commanded.

The young woman giggled, looked shy and hopped from foot to foot. The camera swung back to the others who clapped, swayed and jumped.

This kind of video is the trophy tourists dream of when they set off into the jungles of the Andaman Islands "on safari". The beauty of the forest functions merely as a backdrop. The goal of the trip is to seek out the Jarawa, a reclusive tribe only recently contacted, which is taking the first tentative steps towards a relationship with the outside world.

Read on at the Observer

16 Jan 2012, 08:37:37 PM | Sundeep Dougal

The Telegraph editorialises:

Does one erase difference or does one preserve it? Exoticizing tribal culture, and thinking about it in terms of welfare, protection and preservation — are these different sides of the same, essentially exploitative and regressive, coin?

What, one might ask, is ‘obscene’ about this video: the fact that the women dancing in it are unselfconsciously naked, or that people who are outsiders to that unselfconsciousness have chosen to shoot these women for a different sort of public delectation? And what about the ethics and politics of protection? Keeping the winds of inevitable change away from a tribal community in the name of saving it from getting absorbed into the mainstream — is that necessarily ‘good’ for the tribals, and who decides what is good for them? Why is it always assumed that when members of a tribe perform for non-tribals, there can been no question of willed action or choice on the part of the former? These questions cannot, and should not, have simple answers.

15 Jan 2012, 04:55:19 PM | Sundeep Dougal

Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar in the TOI:

One TV anchor claimed that asking Jarawas to dance for food amounted to "treating them like zoo animals."

Whoa! Has anybody ever tried negotiating with zoo animals to dance in return for food? It's impossible. Only humans negotiate a fee for dancing.

Indeed, it is the NGOs and TV anchors that are treating Jarawas as animals. To call tourism in Jarawa areas "human safaris" is to equate Jarawas with animals. Seeing Jarawas in their habitat is not fundamentally different from seeing Japanese in Japan or Tutsis in Rwanda. Every Republic Day, the government organizes tribal dances, and nobody call these safari performances. One TV anchor actually called the Jarawas an endangered species! Excuse me, but the Jarawas are homo sapiens, like all of us. To call them an endangered species is to call them nonhuman, as though they are animals. To keep them as pristine tribals, isolated from all humans save a few anthropologists and administrators, is to convert their tribal territory into an open zoo where benevolent zookeepers oversee the creatures. This may be well intended, but deprives Jarawas of fundamental human rights.

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