Sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs say that while one requirement for visiting the island was removed, there are several other laws protecting North Sentinel.

John Chaus death in Andaman Are foreigners allowed to enter North Sentinel island
news North Sentinel Thursday, November 22, 2018 - 19:04

American national and missionary John Allen Chau suffered an untimely death when he ventured to the North Sentinel island in the Andamans, and was killed by its inhabitants, the Sentinelese tribe. John hoped to preach Christianity to the tribe, who have lived on the island for thousands of years. The ‘uncontacted’ people are known to respond with aggression at attempts of contact from the outside world.

Several news reports have pointed out since that John Chau was not breaking the law by visiting the North Sentinel island. In August this year, in a bid to promote tourism and encourage investment, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) decided to exclude 30 islands from Andaman and Nicobar from the RAP or Restricted Area Permit regime notified under the Foreigners (Restricted Areas) Order, 1963 – including the North Sentinel Island, which is a tribal reserve area.

However, sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs say there are several other laws protecting the Island. "Earlier, foreign nationals would need to arrange for RAP even before they flew from their home country to the places under the regime. We thought, to promote tourism and for ease of travel, we will just remove the RAP requirement,” a source said.

This did not mean that anyone could go anywhere on the North Sentinel Island. “There are three other requirements to visit the island. You need to inform the local Foreigners Regional Registration Office, and also take approval from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs as well as the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. He (John Chau) had not done any of these things,” the MHA source said.

Further, the Andaman islands which have tribal populations and are protected can only be accessed by people who want to do serious anthropological work. “There is no question of tourism in these islands,” said the source.

North Sentinel island is a tribal reserve

According to a response by Minister of State in the Ministry Of Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir to an unstarred question in the Rajya Sabha in December 2017, the North Sentinel island is a tribal reserve. “The entire North Sentinel Island ad-measuring 59.67 Sq. Km including the coastal sea extending up to 5 Kms. from the high water mark has been declared as Tribal Reserve under the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation, 1956 (sic),” the response states.

The MHA source confirmed that the North Sentinel island continues to be a tribal reserve and the denotification from RAP regime has not affected this status.

Andaman DGP Dependra Pathak also said as much. He confirmed that the entire island is out of bounds. “Even fishing is not allowed in the buffer zone all around. It’s a tribal reserve,” he told TNM.

Under the previous RAP regime, foreigners traveling to these islands would require RAP – a special permit from a competent authority. And if they wanted to go there for activities other than tourism or on a visa other than tourist visa, they would require prior permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs before RAP is granted to them.

Under the new regime however, procuring a RAP is not necessary for islands previously notified under the regime. This was communicated to the Chief Secretary of Andaman and Nicobar Islands by the MHA. The new regime, set to be in place till December 31, 2022, reportedly denotified islands including the North Sentinel Island.

Other denotified islands are East Island, North Andaman Island, Smith Island, Curfew Island, Stewart Island, Landfall Island, Aves Island, Middle Andaman, Long Island, Strait Island, North Passage, Baratang, South Andaman, Havelock, Neil Island, Flat Bay, Little Andaman, Chowra, Tillang Chong Island, Teressa, Katchal, Nancowry, Kamorta, Pulomil, Great Nicobar, Little Nicobar, Narcondam Island and Interview Island.

However, the MHA communication maintained that visitation to reserved forests, wildlife sanctuaries and tribal reserves would still require explicit permission from competent authorities.

Government’s dilution of law irresponsible?

Despite there being other laws restricting entry into these islands, according to Survival International, a global movement for tribal peoples’ rights which has also campaigned for the Sentinelese’s right to maintain their seclusion and territory, the relaxation of the RAP regime broadcasted a dangerous message.

“The removal of RAP from North Sentinel island sent an extremely dangerous message that the island was now open for visitors,” Sophie Grig, a senior researcher with Survival International. “Although it is still illegal for people to visit North Sentinel, because of other protections, Survival was extremely concerned by this move. As you will know, any contact with outsiders is likely to be fatal for the uncontacted Sentinelese tribe, who will have no immunity to common diseases,” she told TNM.

Such a fate has already been documented for another Andaman tribe, the Jarawa. Similar attempts were made to establish contact with them. They, like the Sentinelese, were earlier opposed to contact as well. They ultimately gave in, and are now plagued by alcoholism, sexual exploitation and diseases such as measles.

“What happens immediately with contact is the use of tobacco, the use of betel nuts, abuse of alcohol and sex. The fruits of civilisation never reach them. There will be several generations of suffering before they are able to get a foothold in the fruits of civilisation and set the terms of it for themselves,” Sita Venkateswar, an anthropologist, told the blog Atlas and Boots.

“It is therefore essential that the total protection of the island, and its vulnerable tribal inhabitants, must be entirely unambiguous and clear. Survival has called on the Ministry of Home Affairs to revoke the decision to remove the RAP protection from North Sentinel,” Sophie said.

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