India’s southernmost territory, the rainforest-clad island of Great Nicobar, lies 1,300 kilometres from the mainland. This small island is home to the Indigenous Shompen tribe, one of the world’s most isolated communities. There are only a few hundred members, and most have no contact with outsiders. Like all ‘uncontacted’ tribal people, the Shompen are among the most vulnerable societies on Earth: they rely solely on their forest and can’t survive without it. They also have no immunity to outside diseases – the flu could wipe them out.
This makes India’s new ‘Development Plan’ for the island all the more alarming. The government wants to develop Great Nicobar into the ‘Hong Kong of India’, which may result in the Shompen’s extermination. In order to establish the mega-port, authorities plan to fell almost a million trees, while also building a military base and city with the population of Las Vegas.
The Nicobarese tribe, who live on the coast and have more contact with the Shompen, have expressed deep concerns over such a huge loss of Indigenous territory, which they assert would be ‘very damaging for our future generations and our Shompen brothers’. This project is currently hurtling ahead with strong political support and few Shompen have any idea what is about to happen. When asked about the development, a Shompen man with limited contact had a simple message: ‘Do not come near our hills’. Other tribes in the archipelago have been decimated or completely wiped out by the effects of forced contact.
The Shompen have lived on Great Nicobar for 10,000 years, and even survived the 2004 tsunami. But campaign group Survival International warns they won’t make it if such a catastrophic transformation of their island home goes ahead, and is calling for the project to be scrapped.
Source: New Internationalist