The Curious Case of the Sentinelese Tribe

Recently, an American self-styled adventurer and Christian missionary was allegedly killed by Sentinelese tribes of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, when he was trespassing into their restricted island. This incident highlights the shameful practice of tribal tourism, which was prohibited by the Supreme Court of India but still remains in practice and continues to haunt the reclusive tribes of the Andaman Islands.

What are the major tribes of Andaman?

  • The Andaman Island has divided into four different regions viz., North, Middle, South and Little Andaman. The four major tribes of Andaman are as follows
  1. Sentinelese – North Sentinel Island is the part of North Andaman region which is inhabited by the Sentinelese tribe. Only around 50-100 Sentinelese people are alive today.
  2. Great Andamanese – Lives at Strait Island which is the part of North and Middle Andaman district. Fewer than 50 Great Andamanese are alive today.
  3. Jarawa – Jarawa tribes inhabit South Andaman and Middle Andaman Islands. Only around 300 to 400 people of this community are alive today.
  4. Onge – The little Andaman Island is home to Onge tribes. These tribes are fewer than 100.
  • The Nicobar Islands (totally 9) are home to Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs).

What are the characteristics of A&N tribes?


  • The Andaman tribes including the Sentinelese are Negrito, whereas, the Nicobar tribes are Mongoloid.
  • The A&N tribes are short stature probably because of the island effect that causes genetic limitation over time.


  • The Sentinelese are a pre-Neolithic people who have been living in North Sentinel Island for an estimated 55,000 years without contact with the outside world.
  • The Sentinelese are reclusive and aggressive towards outsiders and they are animistic in faith i.e., believing that all natural objects and the universe itself have souls.
  • What makes the Sentinelese special is that they are protected by coral reefs that make landing on their island dangerous, and by their firm hostility towards outsiders.


  • Hunting, Seafaring, Forest dwelling are the main occupations of these tribes.
  • In recent times, most of these tribes have abandoned hunting-gathering and totally dependent on the government’s help.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

What are the issues being faced by these tribes so far?


  • The Christian missionaries during the colonial period had greater success on the Nicobar Islands to the south, which is located on the ancient marine trade route between Europe and the Far East.
  • However, missionaries have been historically unwelcome in the Andaman Islands and the tribes of the Islands have resisted every occupation with force using bows and arrows.
  • Even recently, the American who was killed by Sentinelese was actually a missionary who violated the law by trying to contact the tribes.


  • They are isolated = No immunity against even common diseases like flu.
  • Notably, a huge proportion of the population of the 10 Great Andamanese tribes was wiped out as they had caught syphilis, measles, and influenza on an epidemic scale after having contact with the early settlers/outsiders.

Natural Disasters

  • The A&N islands are prone to natural disasters such as tsunami and earthquakes.
  • Global warming has a huge impact on this poor tribes as they are less resilient to recent climate changes.

Developmental Projects

  • When NH 223 was being built in the 1980s, the Jarawa tribe repeatedly attacked workers = the government power-fenced the construction site = several tribal people got electrocuted.
  • In recent times, local touts and policemen are conducting human safaris on NH 223 that cuts through the Jarawa reserve.
  • NH223 continues to bring the outsiders, sexual exploitation, substance abuse, and disease into their shrinking sanctuary.

What are the measures taken by the government in this regard?

The Andaman and Nicobar (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation, 1956

  • The Sentinelese and other aboriginal tribes of the archipelago are protected under it.
  • According to the regulations
    • Traditional areas inhabited by the tribes are declared as Reserves.
    • It bans entry of all persons to reserves except those with authorization.
    • Photographing or filming the tribal people is also prohibited.

The Foreigners (Restricted Areas) Order, 1963

  • Under it, the A&N Islands are a “restricted area” in which foreigners with a restricted area permit (RAP) can stay on 13 islands and make visits on day-time to another 11 islands.
  • This order was withdrawn in the mid-1990s in order to safeguard their health and sovereignty. It was decided that no one could enter a 5 km buffer zone around their island.

Between 1998 and 2004

When the Jarawa started to respond to the state, all government hospitals bordering their reserve opened special wards to treat them for infections.

2014 Policy

In 2014, the A&N administration announced a change of policy from “hands off” to “eyes on” to protect the Sentinelese.

What are the problems with these measures?

  • The Andaman Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Andaman Association of Tour Operators have urged for the relaxation of RAP restrictions = In 2018, the Home Ministry dropped the requirement of RAP for visiting 29 inhabited islands until 2022. However, separate approvals are still required for visiting Reserve forests, Wildlife Sanctuaries, and Tribal Reserves.
  • But this move compromised the safety of the tribes and ecology of the islands.
  • Following this issue, the UT administration clarified that Indian nationals continue to need a pass issued by the Deputy Commissioner for entering a tribal reserve. Apart from this, foreigners would need prior approval from the Principal Secretary (Tribal Welfare) from different situations it is found that these rules are being compromised.

What is the way forward?

The recent tragic death of the American missionary highlights the need to re-assess the security and tighten the vigil around North Sentinel Island. While the island effect may gradually wipe out the small tribal populations in the archipelago, allowing their sanctuaries to be invaded by outsiders will only accelerate the process. Hence it is the duty of the Indian government to protect them in their own environment and in their own circumstances.

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