In Focus

Authorities urged to dump plans to recover Chau's body

Gajanan Khergamker | Port Blair

The continued efforts of the Andaman and Nicobar administration to retrieve the body of John Allen Chau from the island of North Sentinel has been met with extreme concern and distress.

Media reports of 'nervous stand-offs' between the teams seeking to land on North Sentinel to recover Chau's body and members of the Sentinelese community who find these incursions unwelcome resisting the same, are un-nerving to say the least. Persistence with these attempts could well trigger 'further violence' and completely unwarranted 'loss of life'.

A joint statement has been issued in this matter by Kalpavriksha member and author 'Islands in Flux - The Andaman and Nicobar Story' Pankaj Sekhsaria, anthropoogist and author Vishvajit Pandya, Senior Researcher Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team Manish Chandy, Editor of Light of Andamans, Port Blair Zubair Ahmed, editor Andaman Chronicle, port blair Denis Giles, researcher activist Madhusree Mukerjee and anthrpologist author Sita Venkateshwar firmly lays down, 'the rights and the desires of the Sentinelese have to be respected and nothing is to be achieved by escalating the conflict and tension, and worse, to creating a situation where more harm is caused.'

The Sentinelese tribesmen have always treated outsiders with hostility for years. 

It goes on to say, 'we are not aware of the pressures under which the government of India and the Andaman and Nicobar administration is pursuing the efforts for the retrieval of the body, but urge the authorities concerned to immediately call of these efforts.'

Concurrently, Survival International too has insisted on dropping attempts to recover the body in the present Sentinelese case. Survival International Director Stephen Corry also issued a statement saying, 'we urge the Indian authorities to abandon efforts to recover John Allen Chau's body. Any such attempt is incredibly dangerous, both for the Indian officials, but also for the Sentinelese, who face being wiped out if outside diseases are introduced. The risk of a deadly epidemic of flu, measles or other outside disease is very real, and increases with every such contact. Such efforts in similar cases in the past have ended with the Sentinelese attempting to defend their island by force. Mr Chau's body should be left alone, as should the Sentinelese. The weakening of the restrictions on visiting the islands must be revoked, and the exclusion zone around the island properly enforced. All uncontacted tribal peoples face catastrophy unless their island is protected. We are doing everything we can to secure it for them, and to give them the chance to determine their own future.'

Director of Anthropological Survey of India Triloknath Pandit made contact with the Sentinelese tribe

The first recorded mention of the Sentinelese was in 1771 when an East India Company service ship spotted 'a multitude of lights up on the shore'. In 1867, a ship called Nineveh got wrecked on its shores, its passengers were attacked by the Sentinelese. Indian administrators who tried to make contact in 1967 were rebuffed with arrows. In 1974, a documentary team also bearing gifts was shot at and the director injured in the thigh, their gifts were also speared. In 1981, a Panamian cargo ship called Primrose ran aground on the island reef. Before the Sentinelese could attack them, the Indian Navy helicopters came to rescue the crew. Metal from Primrose was salvaged by the Sentinelese for arrow heads.

The Sentinelese survived the tsunami in 2004 because of their knowledge of the winds and seas. Not a single one of them died. Instead, they shot an arrow at an Indian Coast Guard helicopter checking on their safety. In 2006, a boat with two Indian fishermen which drifted to the island was attacked and the fishermen killed. While a Coast Guard chopper recovered one body, the other remained on the island.

And now, when John Allen Chau first visited the island his Bible hit by an arrow. Yet he returned, 'to save the eternal lives of this tribe'. Only a Director of Anthropological Survey of India Triloknath Pandit has managed to make contact with the Sentinelese tribe with gifts of metal and coconuts. Prof Pandit feels that if Chau's family does not insist on the body being retrieved, it may be best to let things be.

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