Survival comes first for the last Stone Age tribe
The remarkable story behind the murders of Indian fishermen Sunder Raj, 48, and Pandit Tiwari, 52, sounds like a chapter from a Joseph Conrad novel, but it happened here in the Andamans late last month. The two men were killed by loin-clothed Sentinelese warriors on 27 January, after their boat accidentally drifted on to the shore of North Sentinel Island, a tiny outcrop in the Indian Ocean.
The incident has divided opinion in the archipelago. Relatives of Sundar Raj are calling for justice and government compensation. But the local authorities, under pressure from international preservation groups and a largely sympathetic local population, are reluctant to pursue the matter. And they are backed by the father of the second victim.
‘Believing in justice is one of the pillars of your society but for me it’s different,’ says schoolteacher RK Tiwari, slurping noisily on a hot cup of sweet chai in his home on the outskirts of Port Blair, his grandson on his lap.
The 74-year-old father of seven continues: ‘As far as I am concerned the Sentinelese are the victims in this, not my son. They live in constant terror of heavily armed poachers from Myanmar [Burma] and Port Blair. They were only defending themselves with bows and arrows and rocks in the only way they know how. What I do want is my son’s body back so my wife and I can bury him; we don’t want retribution. It is an impossible case to prosecute anyway.’
The belief that the case could never get to court is shared by the Andamans’ police chief, Dharmendra Kumar: ‘We have witnesses, yes, illegal poachers who won’t testify because they can be imprisoned. Then there are the language barriers; nobody speaks the Sentinelese language. This is before we think about identifying the culprits and compiling forensic evidence. We would have to arrest the entire tribe.’
De Sentinelese doen hun naam in elk geval eer aan…