Travel to tribal portions of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is fairly restricted, and access to particular local tribes is (in theory) hard to accomplish. Rationales for isolating these peoples are probably varied - lack of disease resistance, the desire to protect unusual cultures blending into Rousseau-style noble savage stuff, the interesting genetic structure of the people, pretext for possible naval strategic concerns, etc. Of the lot, only the first seems ethically clean to me, but in any case much of this is fig-leaf stuff anyway, since Indian and foreign tourists visit quite routinely to gawk at the tribesmen.
Rights campaigners and politicians on Wednesday condemned a video showing women from a protected and primitive tribe dancing for tourists in exchange for food on India's far-flung Andaman Islands.
British newspaper The Observer released the video showing Jarawa tribal women -- some of them naked -- being lured to dance and sing after a bribe was allegedly paid to a policeman to produce them.
Under Indian laws designed to protect ancient tribal groups susceptible to outside influence and disease, photographing or coming into contact with the Jarawa is illegal.
The tribe, thought to have been among the first people to migrate successfully from Africa to Asia, lives a nomadic existence in the lush, tropical forests of the Andamans in the Bay of Bengal.
India's tribal affairs minister V Kishore Chandra Deo promised to take action over the incident, terming it "disgusting" on Wednesday, and the home ministry has sought a report.
Survival International, which lobbies on behalf of tribal groups worldwide, said the video showed tourists apparently enjoying "human zoos."
"Quite clearly, some people's attitudes towards tribal peoples haven't moved on a jot. The Jarawa are not circus ponies bound to dance at anyone's bidding," said Stephen Corry, the group's director, in a press release.
In June last year, Survival International accused eight Indian travel companies of running "human safari tours" so tourists could see and photograph the Jarawa. [emph added]
I think this 'Survival International' group is grandstanding to some extent in drawing the zoo analogy, but clearly this is pretty unsanitary stuff. Still, my own view is that this wouldn't ethically be that different from people visiting Amish country, if these people were treated like human beings to begin with and not fetishized, by people across the political spectrum, including foremost the government. People - all people - like gratifying their curiosity about strange people, and channeling that interest in ordinary ways (modulo health impact) would be on the whole harmless, doing little more than diluting cultural heritage, and might even create economic and other benefits. But with things as they are, such visits have an illicit character, and people tend to behave rather worse than is strictly necessary.
The Daily Mail [NSFW] has a video and additional details making the thing more vivid, including a picture showing a long line of cars that looks quite a bit like a safari. What particularly stood out to me is this:
The 403 tribe members should, in theory, be protected by strict laws on the Indian-run island. A sign at the gate to the 'enclosure' states: 'Don’t give any eatables to the Jarawas.
'Don’t indulge in photography, videography. Otherwise you will be liable for legal action including seizure of camera.' [emph added]
I can think of reasons to bar outsiders from entering this enclosure. [Although I hope - without having much expectation of being right - that such finickiness doesn't extend to medical care or education. Jarawa cancer patients should not be expected to die wholesomely just because they have done so for thousands of years...] Given whatever limited entry right there is though, with at least some people being allowed to walk, talk, sneeze and drive on tar roads, what possessed the government to put up signs warning those people off giving tribal children snickers bars? Are they monkeys or ducks that visitors must be barred from feeding them? If this is a zoo, who's the real zoo-keeper?