After news of American citizen John Allen Chau’s death at the North Sentinel island in Andaman broke on Wednesday, police have now revealed more details about the case, including the fact that his body is yet to be retrieved by the police.
26-year-old John had gone with the intention of preaching Christianity to the Sentinelese tribe, residents of the island also known as the world’s last ‘uncontacted’ people, known for violently opposing contact with the outside world. The tribe and their territory are protected under the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation Act, 1956. According to the police, he had bribed locals, including fishermen, with Rs 25,000 to take him to there.
Police got to know of the case when they received an email from the US Consulate General on November 19, stating that John’s mother had contacted them about her son’s visit to the North Sentinel island and the attack by its residents. After a missing report was registered, the subsequent enquiry revealed that John had been killed on a “misplaced adventure in the highly restricted area while trying to interact with the un-contacted people who have a history of vigorous rejection towards outsiders.”
The police found that the people who helped John reach the reserved territory were one Alexander, a local friend of John’s and an electronics engineer, Saw Remmis, a local water sports help and 5 other fishermen namely Saw Jampo, Saw Taray, Saw Watson, Saw Molian and M Bhumi. The fishermen took John to North Sentinel Island pretending that he was part of the fishing party to evade the patrolling teams of Police, Coast Guard and Navy.
They began their journey on November 14, around 8 pm and reached there by midnight. The next morning, John went to the shore in his own kayak which was towed along with the fishing boat. The fishermen, meanwhile, dropped John at the North Sentinel island and then decided a time to meet at the shoreline.
On the morning of November 17, the fishermen saw a dead person being buried at the shore, presumably by the Sentinelese tribe people. “[…] from the silhouette of the body, clothing and circumstances appeared to be the body of John Allen Chau,” a police statement notes the fishermen’s observation.
The fishermen then informed John’s friend Alexander about the same and handed him the 13 pages of the journal written by John, as instructed. Alexander informed a friend of John’s in the US who in turn informed John’s mother.
“Despite knowing fully well about the illegality of the action and the hostile attitude of the Sentinelese tribesmen to the outsiders, these people collaborated with John Chau for this visit to North Sentinel Island without any permission from the authorities,” the police statement says. The seven people who facilitated John’s visit to the Sentinelese therefore have also been booked. An FIR has been filed against them under sections 282 (conveying person by water for hire in unsafe or overloaded vessel) 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others) 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) 34 (criminal act done by several persons in furtherance of a common intention) of the IPC and relevant sections of the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes (Regulation) Act.
The police also said that it has attempted an aerial survey twice to recover John’s body. On November 20, a team of Andaman and Nicobar police along with the Indian Coast Guard attempted an aerial survey to carry out recce of the North Sentinel island. The next day too, a team led by IGP/L&O, SSP South Andaman, officials of Andaman Aadim Janjati Vikas Samiti and the Forest Department took an Indian Coast Guard boat to find the place where the John was killed.
While further investigation is underway, Andaman DGP Dependra Pathak had told TNM on Wednesday that they would have to carefully strategise how to retrieve John’s body keeping in mind sensitivities of the Sentinelese. “We are working on that, and are in contact with anthropologists and tribal welfare experts. We will figure out some strategy,” he had said.
While there was lack of clarity on why John wanted to visit the island on Wednesday, according to a statement by his own family posted on Instagram on Wednesday night, he was a Christian missionary. Excerpts from his journal entries accessed by media also show that he was aware that he may be killed on his mission to preach Christianity to the Sentinelese. “'Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed,” he had written.
Meanwhile, a committee has also been set up to look into the events of John’s death. It will also “review the institutional mechanism to prevent unauthorised entry of any foreign national in the prohibited/restricted areas and also to suggest measures to prevent such incidents in future,” the police release added.