Stefan Kirshner’s Reply to Survival International Response to Stefan Kirschner’s comment on the Jarawa

Survival International’s response to my original article [IPJ Summer 2012] essentially sidestepped the issue that I was trying to raise. They engaged in some word games and semantics but did not address the main thrust of my writing. And that point is that the Jarawa need to decide if they want to continue living in the forest or if they would like more contact with the more technologically advanced society around them. Firstly they deny the charge that they want to keep the Jarawa in a “pristine” condition and say no one is in a pristine condition because the Jarawa, just like everyone else, have changed over time. To compare the changes that have occurred nearly everywhere in the last thousand years and the changes that the Jarawa have gone through in the same period is absurd. The Jarawa have remained essentially the same while general society has changed beyond recognition.

But the more important point here is that Survival says they agree with me. They say “it is about letting them decide if and when they do so” (make contact with general Indian society). But they say the existence of the ATR denies them the choice. I do not know why the ATR denies them the choice but one can see that Survival’s claim that they want the Jarawa to decide their own fate and that they are not specifically for isolation is betrayed by their actions. Survival has only advocated isolation for indigenous peoples. But as I wrote in my article, in order to ascertain Jarawa wishes one must speak to them, one must contact them. And this is something that Survival has ignored and it is this that was the essence of my article.

Survival questioned how I could say that there is an inevitable and inexorable process underway towards “civilization”. If I am not mistaken that is the direction all societies are headed. I have not heard of any cases of peoples abandoning technology and heading back to the wilderness. The Jarawa coming to the ATR instead of running away from it shows that they are interested in what it can bring even though they may “go back to the forest as soon as they can”.

Survival states that previous historical evidence shows that trying to help tribal peoples has “invariably been disastrous” and that I overlook that evidence. I obviously did not overlook that evidence since the title of my article was “Do not let the Jarawa become another Onge”. But it is possible to learn from the past. Look at the experience of the neighboring Nicobarese for example.

Survival claims that I “betray my true position” when I speak of the modernization process but Survival betrays its true position when it states “when tribal people are left to live on their land in freedom, they thrive. We must not force the Jarawa to be another experiment”. So where is the choice in this? Here we can see what Survival truly advocates. They give lip service to “choice”.