39 international genocide scholars have written to the Indian government warning it that its plans to turn the uncontacted Shompen tribe’s island into a mega-port and city will wipe them out. It accuses the government of planning a genocide – via settler-colonial policies and practices.
The Shompen People: an uncontacted tribe
Great Nicobar Island in the Indian Ocean is home to an estimated 300 Shompen hunter-gatherers, around two thirds of whom are uncontacted. They are one of the most isolated tribes on Earth, and live in the dense rainforests that occupy the interior of the island.
As NGO Survival International wrote:
For centuries, most Shompen have refused all contact with outsiders, and this has kept them safe from the terrible effects of contact experienced by most other tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Living in the rainforests of Great Nicobar Island in the eastern Indian Ocean, the Shompen have guarded and maintained a unique landscape for thousands of years. The Shompen are nomadic hunter-gatherers. They live in small groups, whose territories are identified by the rivers that criss-cross the rainforest. Being nomadic, they typically set up forest camps where they live for a few weeks or months, before moving to another site.
Now, the Indian government’s plans could amount to a genocide of the Shompen People.
Indian government: planning a genocide via settler colonialism
The government’s $9bn plan for Great Nicobar includes a mega-port; a new city; an international airport; a power station; a defense base; an industrial park; and 650,000 settlers – a population increase of nearly 8,000%.
However, numerous experts including 87 former high level Indian government officials and civil servants have called on the government to abandon the scheme. Since the Shompen cannot give their Free, Prior and Informed Consent to it, it is illegal under international law.
Now, the open letter from 39 genocide scholars states:
If the project goes ahead, even in a limited form, we believe it will be a death sentence for the Shompen, tantamount to the international crime of genocide.
Among them are historians, sociologists, and the former President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.
The experts say that:
simple contact between the Shompen – who have little to no immunity to infectious outside diseases – and those who come from elsewhere, is certain to result in a precipitous population collapse. The mass death of the entire Shompen tribe will ensue. The only way to avoid the obliteration of the Shompen is for the project to be abandoned.
Scrap the project, save the Shompen People
Survival International is calling for the project to be abandoned, and the Shompen People’s land ownership rights over their ancestral lands to be recognised. More than 7,000 people have emailed the government in support of the call. You can email here.
Caroline Pearce, director of Survival International, said:
This is a stark warning which the Indian government must heed – pushing ahead with the Great Nicobar project will destroy the Shompen’s island home and mean the genocide of the Shompen.
Featured image via Survival International