Why We Need to Leave Andaman Islands’ Sentinelese People Alone


Why We Need to Leave Andaman Islands’ Sentinelese People Alone

Illustration: Arati Gujar (representation purpose)


ou could be forgiven for thinking that Salman Khan is the only person who could get away with murder in this country, but you’d be wrong. Bhai might have great luck in court, but he isn’t above the law. However, in the wake of 26-year-old American traveller John Lang Chau’s death at the hands of the tribal residents of North Sentinel Island in the Andaman & Nicobar archipelago, we are reminded that there is a group of Indian citizens who live ungoverned by the Constitution; in fact, they’ve never heard of it. They are the Sentinelese, who are recognised by the government as a scheduled tribe and enjoy a protected status. As a result, their way of life, which has remained unchanged since as far back as the Stone Age, has been kept free from the influences of modern society.

Chau’s death was the result of his foolhardy insistence on visiting the Sentinelese on their native island, despite the tribe’s reputation for welcoming visitors with a volley of arrows and spears. It’s no secret that the Sentinelese people don’t want any company – the government stopped undertaking gift-giving, contact-making expeditions to the island in 1996, and the Navy has been tasked with maintaining a cordon around the island since 2004. “Complete isolation and minimal intervention” is the government’s stated approach to dealing with the indigenous peoples of the Andaman & Nicobar islands.