Whole last week I did not post anything on the blog. Reason – I was travelling. We travelled to Port Blair from Diglipur by road and came back a couple of days later, again by road. (Diglipur is 300 kms North of Port Blair).
Let me tell you a bit about Andaman’s geography first. As the name suggests, Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a group of about 572 Islands of which only about 36 Islands are inhabited. Earlier, there were 38 inhabited Islands but after Tsunami two of them were evacuated – Bambuka and Trinket. Supreme Court has strict orders that forest land of India would not even be touched so the Islands that are uninhabited remain as such and will remain so until any new amendment is made. Most of these Islands, obviously, do not have road connectivity. But Diglipur is connected to Port Blair by road. Though, twice we have to board a vehicle ferry to cross the sea channels. Once at Baratang and another at Kadamtala.
While on the ferry, you see lush green Mangrove forests surrounding the channel. This gives a picturesque view to the short voyage.
The entire journey takes 8-9 hours but since the road ATR (Andaman Trunk Road) traverses through dense forests, the journey gets bumpy but calm.
Andaman boasts of five indigenous tribes viz., The Great Andamanese, Jharwas, Onges, Sentenelese and Shompens. I will talk about all five of these one by one.. but today’s post is dedicated to Jharwas. Jharwas are very smart and fearless people unlike Onges or Shompens. The Jharwa zone starts from Jirkatang and ends at Kadamtala spreading over a stretch of about 80 kms.
Jharwas live in several huts which are spread over the stretch called Jharwa Reserve. There are about 350 of them currently. The population declined drastically in the past but slowly and steadily it is on the rise. The reason for the decline is often touted to be the ATR. This road connects Port Blair (capital city of Andaman) and North and Middle Andaman (Northern most district of Andaman). This road was opened for commute in 1980s. In 1997 Jharwas came out on the roads for the first time. Soon, an epidemic spread and many Jharwas died of measles. Again, the epidemic broke out in 2006. Since then, activists are against ATR and have repeatedly asked for the closure of the ATR. The administration found a mid way to tackle the problem.
The ATR runs but the vehicles move in a convoy. The vehicles also have to take a permission pass from the local administration prior to the journey. Also, each vehicle has a guard who takes care that commuters do not interact with the Jharwas and vehicles are not permitted to stop on the way for any reason. Under the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation, 1956, contacting, photographing or interacting with Jharwas is strictly prohibiting. Though, the real scenario is quite different. As one zooms by the ATR, one can easily see groups of Jharwas, (mostly young) on the roads, many of whom beg for something to eat. Though the Jharwas ask for things like chips, money or biscuits it is not allowed, nor advisable to share anything eatable with Jharwas as they are not used to the food we eat and by munching such things, they develop rashes and allergies.
(Photo Source: Survival)
Jharwas used to be a hostile tribe until late 90s. But it was in 1997, when a Jharwa named Enmoy met with a small accident on the road and was taken to the hospital for treatment. There he was treated with extreme care and warmth and on returning to his hut, he explained to his family that people out there on the road are not bad people, they are friends. This is supposed to be the turning point and since then Jharwas have become more friendly and they have started interacting with the locals and authority. Otherwise earlier they posed huge hurdles by shooting arrows and throwing stones on the road builders and workers. In the process, even the Jharwas got hurt and allegedly exploited.
Culture and Lifestyle of Jharwas
In present times, Jharwas have even picked up few Hindi words. And they wear clothes and accessories. A government personnel who spent a substantial amount of time with Jharwas informed us that Jharwas live in a very closely knit family. A family has about 20-25 members, And there are various Jharwa families who live in different regions of the forests. They usually eat wild pigs, monitor lizards and fish. They also collect honey and berries. They build their huts themselves with woods and wear a skirt kind of thing made up of fine thread that they make by peeling off some wooden branches. To safeguard themselves against mosquitoes and other bites, they put a kind of clay on the faces of the young Jharwas.
Every evening, the entire Jharwa family sit together across a fire and talk about their day. They laugh, eat, play together. The elders go out in the jungle to hunt while the youngsters take care of the babies at home . Men have the responsibility of hunting, building hut and bringing food for the family while women take care of the family and also sometimes accompany their men. The day a young Jharwa hunts a wild pig, he is declared as a man which means he is ready for marriage. The person who hunts and brings the food for the family, has the right to distribute it among the rest of the family members. And no one can question his decision. Jharwas have a tradition of hanging the skulls of the pigs in the centre of the hut, hunted by the family. This is a symbol of the bravery of the family. Higher the number of the skulls in the hut, braver the family. Also if their olders die, Jharwas keep the bones of their demised brave hunters. They believe keeping the bones in the family will bring the soul’s bravery and hunting skills to their family.
Local Administration and Jharwas
Andaman and Nicobar administration has taken several steps for Jharwa protection. A 5 km long coastal tribal reserve has been declared for them. Several exclusive wards have been created for medical treatment of Jharwas at GB Pant hospital, Tushnabad and Kadamtala. ATR still remains debatable. While many claim it’s the lifeline of A&N as it connects Port Blair and Northen Andaman (Baratang, Rangat, Maya Bandur and Diglipur), others say it is a threat to Jharwas!
If any of you visit A&N, please take care of the facts stated above and do not try to communicate with or photograph Jharwas.