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News > India

India: Police Halts Search for Body of Trespassing US Preacher Killed by Indigenous Tribe

  • Indian police put the search operation of the body of killed U.S. missionary (pictured) on hold due to risks to Sentinelese tribe.

    Indian police put the search operation of the body of killed U.S. missionary (pictured) on hold due to risks to Sentinelese tribe. | Photo: Reuters

Published 27 November 2018
Opinion

Indian police put the search operation of U.S. preacher's body on hold as it can have a disastrous effect on the Indigenous Sentinelese tribe. 

Indian officials have halted the search operation to retrieve the body of John Allen Chau, a missionary from the United States reportedly killed by an endangered and protected Sentinelese tribe residing in the Andaman and Nicobar islands in Bay of Bengal of India.

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Officials from the police, tribal welfare, forest and anthropological departments of India held Monday a meeting during which it was decided that the search operation will be put on hold.

John Allen Chau, 26, who had been to Andaman numerous times in the past, expressed his desire to preach and convert the Sentinelese to Christianity. However, his wish was met with a volley of arrows by the tribe when he tried to trespass the off-limits island on Nov. 16. Since then his body had not been retrieved.

The Indian officials arrived at the decision after various rights groups objected to the operation, citing the risk to the tribespeople.

Survival International, a body that campaigns for the rights of Indigenous tribes, said Monday that the attempts were dangerous for the Indian officials as well as the Sentinelese, who face being “wiped out” if any outside diseases were introduced.

“All uncontacted tribal peoples face catastrophe unless their land is protected. We have to do everything we can to secure it for them,” informed Stephen Corry, the director of Survival International.

The Sentinelese community is believed to be the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world. They were among the first people to have migrated out of Africa and believed to be inhabiting in the Andaman island for over 60,000 years.

"The number of people belonging to the Sentinelese tribe is low... It's, in fact, illegal to have any sort of contact with them,” Subir Bhaumik, a journalist covering the island told BBC Hindi last week.

The suspected killing of Chau has sparked calls to better protect Indigenous people from increasing pressure to free up their land for tourism, mines, and highways.

“A wealth of Indigenous knowledge has already been lost because of intrusions, and trying to integrate them into our way of life, and the loss of traditional habitats,” said Manish Chandi, a senior researcher at Andaman Nicobar Environment Team told Reuters. “We need stricter enforcement of our laws for them to be truly effective,” he said.

The aboriginal people of Andaman and Nicobar are protected by a 1956 law that designates the areas where they have lived as tribal reserves, with little access for outsiders.

Yet the law is often flouted by tourists, poachers, and others, with few held to account, Chandi said.

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