Mystery of North Sentinel Island in Indian Ocean: Why Visitors Are Banned?
India has forbidden its nationals from travelling to North Sentinel Island or seeking to communicate with the residents there. It’s prohibited to go within three miles of the island. The Sentinelese people have a reputation for being violent and hostile to strangers. They reside on a square island, which is largely covered with forest and mostly unknown. In 2006, when two fishermen washed up on the strand, the tribe attacked and killed them right away. Whether on surveillance duties or delivering food baskets to the people, Indian Coast Guard helicopters are attacked with arrows and stones when they pass overhead.
Location of Sentinel Island:
North Sentinel is one of the islands of Andaman Islands-a chain island controlled by India- in the Bay of Bengal which also includes South Sentinel Island. The island chain is much closer to Myanmar and Thailand than to the main land of India. North Sentinel falls 36 km west of the town of Wandoor in South Andaman Island and 59 km north from South Sentinel Island.
The island, which has a total area of about 59.67 square km is surrounded by coral reefs and lacks natural harbours. The entire island is full of forest and a narrow white sand beach encircles the island. In 2004, the island was lifted by one to two meters by an Indian Ocean earthquake that resulted in extending the boundaries of the island 1km on the west and south sides.
The Sentinelese are hunter and gatherer. They consume plants and animals that they find on their island and in the surrounding seas. According to experts, this probably contains fish, fruits, eggs from seagulls and turtles, tiny mammals, and fish. Using resources from the island, the tribe also crafts its own weaponry. Bows and arrows, daggers, and spears are a few of these.
Contact Attempts in Past:
The Indian government made many attempts to contact the Sentinelese. In 1967, Triloknath Pandit, an anthropologist, was sent along with a number of policemen and navy officials. When the group came near the island, Sentinelese clearly showed that they were not interested at all in any contact. But Pandit and his crew came back repeatedly. They left gifts for the Sentinelese as a gesture of goodwill. The tribe started accepting the presents over time. The coconuts that Pandit and his colleagues had brought were of particular interest to them. By 1991, the Sentinelese had become less hostile toward the tourists and had even come to collect their presents unarmed.
They still kept the visiting group at a safe distance and never invited them to visit their village or didn’t give any gift in return. Finally, the Indian government stopped the visits in 1996. However, other contact attempts with the Sentinelese were also made by outside people. The Indian government has prohibited travel to North Sentinel Island for a long time. This was for the safety of both the Sentinelese and visitors. An American called John Allen Chau made an unauthorized trip to North Sentinel Island in 2018. He intended to introduce himself to the Sentinelese as an ardent Christian missionary. However, he also encountered resistance. Chau, who was 26 years old, was killed by the tribe.
Why Visitors Are Banned:
The people of North Sentinel Island have been cut off from the outside world for thousands of years. They hunt the animals that wander the small, densely forested island using spears and bows and arrows. They also collect plants for food and to build their houses. Their nearest neighbour is just 50 km away from them but they never made any attempt to visit them. They are highly sceptical of visitors and will attack anyone who enters their beaches through the waves.
Police believe that’s what happened when John Allen Chau, a young American, was killed by islanders in 2018. He paid a bribe of INR 20,000 to the fisherman to carry him there. Anthropologist Anup Kapur said, “the Sentinelese want to be left alone.” The Sentinelese are thought to have moved from Africa some 50,000 years ago, but much is still unknown about their lives.
Anvita Abbi, an expert on the tribal languages of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands who has spent decades researching them, said, “We do not even know how many of them are there.” Experts assume that a few dozen to several hundred people live on the forbidden island.
It is unknown what language they speak or how ancient it is, according to Abbi. Nobody is able to contact these individuals. “Why should we bother a community that has survived for tens of thousands of years only for our curiosity, ” she questioned? Indian authorities have strictly restricted trips to North Sentinel for years, with interaction limited to very infrequent “gift-giving” meetings in which small teams of officials and scientists leave bananas and coconuts for the islanders.
Experts warn that because people of this island lack immunity to illnesses brought by outsiders, any interaction with such isolated individuals can be deadly for them. P C Joshi, an anthropology professor at Delhi University, declared that “we have turned into very dangerous people.” “Even little things can kill them.” Because of this, according to Abbi, researchers who travel to remote communities take special care to keep their stays brief and to avoid the people altogether, even if they just have a little cold or cough.
The other tribes of the island chain have been mostly wiped off during the previous century due to sickness, intertribal marriage, and migration. According to Survival International, a group that works for the rights of tribal people, Chau could have been inspired by recent modifications to Indian laws governing travel to remote islands in the Andamans. Visits are now theoretically permitted in several areas of the Andamans where they were previously completely prohibited, while specific approvals are still required.
According to a statement from the organisation, “the authorities relaxed one of the limitations that had been guarding the Sentinelese tribe’s island from international tourists, which communicated exactly the wrong message and may have led to this awful occurrence.”
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