John Allen Chau killed by Sentinelese tribe: No pressure from US to retrieve body as calls to stop search for American grow shriller

With uncertainty abounding over the mortal remains of American John Allen Chau, who was killed by members of the Sentinelese tribe, sources close to the operation mounted to recover the clergyman's body said there was "no pressure from the US government" on the Indian police to retrieve his body. This is contrary to opinion among experts believed that the US is "pressuring" India to return the body of the American national, the sources said.

John Allen Chau, right, stands for a photograph with Founder of Ubuntu Football Academy Casey Prince, 39, days before he left for India, in Cape Town, South Africa. (AP Photo/Sarah Prince)

John Allen Chau, right, stands for a photograph with Founder of Ubuntu Football Academy Casey Prince, 39, days before he left for India, in Cape Town, South Africa. (AP Photo/Sarah Prince)

However, this does not mean the police has stopped its operation. As calls to stop efforts by the police to retrieve the body of Chau from North Sentinel Island grew louder, sources at the Andaman and Nicobar Island Police say there is no let-up.

“We are doing a recce around the islands on boats to see to get clues on where the body might be,” said Abhishek Menon, a police personnel at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands’s DGP (Director General of Police) office. However, there are no plans for the police to set foot on the islands. “There is no way to predict how tribals would react even if we use protective gear to enter the island,” he added.

Chau, a 27-year-old American citizen had gone to the North Sentinel Island in an attempt to make contact with the protected community. The police said he was killed on 17 November. The police did the recce on boats last on 23 November. Contradicting some media reports on suspending efforts to retrieve Chau’s body, the Andaman DGP Dependra Pathak said that investigations are still on.

"We are handling this with utmost sensitivity and moving ahead only with the advice of anthropologists. Right from day one, we had no plan of confronting them,” Pathak said. “Based on our further investigations, we will decide whether more recces are required," he added.

Experts say that the rights and the desires of the Sentinelese is the first priority and needs to be respected. "The media has reported nervous stand-offs between the teams seeking to land on North Sentinel to get the body and members of the Sentinelese community who clearly find these incursions unwelcome. Continuing with the efforts could well lead to further violence and completely unwarranted loss of life,” read a joint statement from anthropologists, local editors, and researchers who have worked on the islands. The group also speculated on the kind of pressures the government of India and the local administration is under to retrieve the Chau’s body from North Sentinel Island.

The US Consulate General, Chennai spokesperson said the mission is in close contact with local authorities. “The welfare and the safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” said the press officer for the consulate Kathleen Hosie. She, however, declined to state whether Chau’s family has approached the consulate to expedite the process of retrieving the body due to ‘privacy concerns’.

Elaborating on the need to respect the sentiments of the Sentinelese tribals, Pankaj Sekhsaria an environmental activist and the author of two books — The Last Wave and Islands In Flux — said, "The Sentinelese have made it very clear that they do not wish to come in contact with the outside world and it is best this be respected." The tribal reserves on these islands which are home to communities like the Jarawas and the Onge are among the most pristine evergreen forests in these islands. “The Jarawa Tribal Reserve is spread over an area of close to a 1,000 sq/km while the Onge Tribal Reserve is more than 500 sq/km in area. The tribes have an intricate relationship with nature, both for their survival and culturally. The forests and the biodiversity of these reserves are better than any other forest in the Andamans and protecting them is critical,” he said.

Madhusree Mukerjee, another signatory and the author of The Land of Naked People said that there is no way to make the retrieval peaceful or safe. “There is a standard procedure for pacifying a people who offer resistance to a coloniser. It is a mixture of terror and bribes. So one option is to go in with guns and risk a confrontation with fatalities. The other option is to establish “friendly contact” which is even more dangerous because it will lead to contact and the transmission of germs to which they have no immunity. There is no way to retrieve the body without making things worse," she said.

In a blog, she wrote about her experience on the islands. “I too approached the island in a boat in 1998, spotting from a distance a canoe in which two figures stood, fishing; others on the beach observed the encounter. Seeing us, the fishers moved back toward their shore, whereupon we left. I regret that visit; even if for some minutes, I violated their privacy and tranquility. Unlike Chau, however, it did not occur to me that I had any wisdom to impart to them. What can I, a representative of a civilization that, within the span of a few hundred years, has destabilized the biosphere of an entire planet, have to offer to a people who have thrived since the dawn of humankind on these tiny islands? Is it we who have something to teach the Sentinelese, or they us?”

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Updated Date: Nov 28, 2018 15:43:52 IST

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