The Andaman Islands are an isolated chain of islands in the Bay of Bengal, situated some 1,000 kilometers from the Indian mainland. During the 18th century, Andaman was colonized by both the Danish and English East India Companies. Shortly after achieving independence in 1947, the Indian government, which inherited the archipelago from the British, began to give away land in the Andaman territory to ex-servicemen from the mainland. These settlers were followed by bureaucrats from the mainland to help administer governance on the islands, and later contractors and business-people. According to Abhishek Avtans, “By 1961, the [settler] population had reached 63,548. Three decades later, it had increased to more than four times to 280,661.” The settling of Andaman is a clear way in which indigenous culture and land is being lost. The landbase of almost every indigenous Andamanese group has decreased since colonization, all except for the Sentinelese people, of whom so little is known that the outside world doesn’t even know what they call themselves. North Sentinel Island, the home of the Sentinelese people, has recently been declared off-limits to outsiders by the Indian government in order to protect the unique cultural heritage there. “Perhaps no people on Earth remain more genuinely isolated than the Sentinelese,” reports Survival International. There is every indication that the Sentinelese don’t want to be contacted, as evidenced by their defense against anthropologists, fishermen, and journalists who have come upon their shore. By closing the island to the world, the Indian government has given the Sentinelese the power of self-determination and the right to decide their future.
– Description by Janice D’souza. Janice is a graduate of Berea College, where her thesis work focused on the Andaman Islands.