As the Covid-19 surge left people gasping for breath, miles away deep inside the jungles of remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands the local administration has started vaccinating the Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) like Jarawa and Great Andamanese.
It was learnt that the island administration has started vaccination of PVTGs in the wake of a rising number of cases this time as compared to last year in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The initiative has been taken after last year in August, five Great Andamanese were tested Covid-19 positive. Then, nearly 35 Onges and a few Jarawas were also tested but their reports came negative. Then former chief secretary, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chetan Sanghi, tweeted, "Primitive Vulnerable Tribes are all safe. Every precaution is taken to protect this heritage of humanity."
Speaking exclusively to News18.com, Union Minister of Tribal Affairs and former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Arjun Munda, said, "Yes, the health ministry is overseeing the vaccination drive and we are coordinating with them. Vaccination drives are going on in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and we felt that vulnerable tribes like Jarawa should be vaccinated."
He said, "Unka (Jarawa and other tribal groups) vaccination hone se theek rahega (It will be better to vaccinate them)… I have also asked the concerned officials to ensure that their privacy should not be breached. No one (except authorised officials) should visit the tribal reserve areas in Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a part of their safety and security."
Munda has worked extensively for the welfare of tribal people in India with special attention on the PVTGs at Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Ever since he took charge of the tribal ministry, he has taken various initiatives for tribal welfare which includes, launching 'Centres of Excellence for Tribal Welfare' and a portal named 'ShramShakti' to collect data related to tribal migrant workers and link them with the existing welfare schemes.
When contacted the Tribal Welfare Secretary at Port Blair, Sanjay Kumar Jha, said, "I am not authorised to make any comments over the telephone."
When asked whether tribal groups like Jarawas are being vaccinated, he said, "We are."
Sources said, so far more than 50 Jarawas and Great Andamanese were given Covishield vaccines and all of them are perfectly fine as no post vaccinations complications were reported among them. It was learnt that a mobile 'Health and Wellness Centre' was set up at Tirur and Middle Strait to vaccinate Jarawa and Great Andamanese.
It is not yet confirmed whether other PVTGs like the Onge tribes, who are confined to Dugong Creek (earmarked for them), were also vaccinated or not. Similar to Jarawas and Great Andamanese, Onges are not considered as 'uncontacted like Sentinelese who live in North Sentinel Island.
Onges are semi-nomadic and used to be fully dependent on hunting and gathering for food but now the local administration provides them ration and clothes. Not habitual to clothes, the tribe is steadily and slowly adopting the habit of covering their bodies.
Over the years, since the establishment of ‘penal settlement’ in 1858 by the British, the population of primitive tribes like Onge, Jarawa, Shompen, Great Andamanese, and the Sentinelese were decimated due to various reasons. This included an epidemic after the tribes had come in contact with British soldiers.
At present, the PVTGs in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have reduced to nearly 59 in the case of Great Andamanese; about 238 in the case of Shompen tribes, and Jarawa are nearly 520 in numbers while Onges and Sentinelese are approximately 120 and 50 in numbers, respectively.
Since March 1, 2021 (second wave), the total confirmed cases reported in Andaman and Nicobar Islands are 1,907. Total active cases are 220 and the total deaths reported so far are 46. In the last 24-hours, 23 new active cases were reported while 29 were discharged (in the last 24 hours).