Despite repeated attempts, the body of American explorer and preacher, John Allen Chau, who was allegedly killed by members of a protected and reclusive tribe in the Andamans, has remained untraceable more than 10 days after he was killed.
However, amid the police’s efforts to retrieve his body from the remote island, are calls from various quarters to abandon the mission.
In a statement on Monday, Survival International's Director Stephen Corry said that India should abandon its "incredibly dangerous" efforts to recover Chau’s body. Survival International is an organisation working for the tribal peoples' rights around the world, helping them defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures.
Twenty-seven-year-old Chau was killed by the Sentinelese tribes on 17 November when he tried to enter North Sentinel Island, where entry of outsiders is forbidden by law, allegedly after paying to the fishermen to smuggle him in.
The fishermen informed the Indian authorities that they saw the Sentinelese bury Chau’s body on the beach.
‘Chau's Body Should Be Left Alone, As Should the Sentinelese’
Survival International said that any attempt to recover the body would be dangerous for both, the Indian authorities and the Sentinelese, who face being wiped out if any outside diseases are introduced.
"We urge the Indian authorities to abandon efforts to recover 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 any outside diseases are introduced," Corry said.
"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," he said.
Corry said the body of Chau "should be left alone, as should the Sentinelese." The Sentinelese are generally considered the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world.
Till June, a foreigner was allowed to visit 29 islands in the Andamans, including the North Sentinel Island, only after taking special permission – the Restricted Area Permit (RAP).
According to officials, it was withdrawn, but any foreigner is required to take permission from the forest department and the administration of the island is protected under two other acts -- protection of aboriginal people and forest acts.
Corry was also critical of the weakening of the restrictions and said "the weakening of the restrictions on visiting the islands must be revoked and the exclusion zone around the island properly enforced".
‘Search Puts Everyone at Risk’
Other rights groups, too, asked the police to call off the search for the missionary’s body, saying that the “the search puts everyone involved at risk.”
In a statement, a group of authors, activists, anthropologists wrote:
The media has reported nervous stand-offs between the teams seeking to land on North Sentinel to get the body and members of the Sentinelese community who clearly find these incursions unwelcome.
Continuing with the efforts could well lead to further violence and completely unwarranted loss of life.
The rights and the desires of the Sentinelese need to be respected and nothing is to be achieved by escalating the conflict and tension, and worse, creating a situation where more harm is caused.
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 would urge the authorities concerned to immediately call off these efforts.
Among those who’ve signed the appeal are Pankaj Sekhsaria, author of Islands in Flux - the Andaman and Nicobar Story, anthropologist Vishvajit Pandya, Manish Chandi, senior researcher at Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team, Zubair Ahmed, Editor at Light of Andamans in Port Blair, Denis Giles, Editor at Andaman Chronicle in Port Blair, researcher, activist and author Madhusree Mukerjee and anthropologist Sita Venkateshwar.
(With inputs from PTI)
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