‘May Wipe Off Tribes’: Coronavirus Spread From Delhi’s Nizamuddin Congregation Threatens Andaman Islands’ Aborigines

‘May Wipe Off Tribes’: Coronavirus Spread From Delhi’s Nizamuddin Congregation Threatens Andaman Islands’ AboriginesRepresentative Image 
  • Since these tribes have lived for years in isolation, their immunity levels are poor, and hence, any infection by Coronavirus can wipe out the entire community.

Anthropologists and the entire administration of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands are extremely worried over the spread of the deadly coronavirus through Muslims who had returned to the archipelago after attending a religious programme at Nizamuddin in Delhi.

Of the 10 people who have tested Covid-19 positive in the Bay of Bengal archipelago till now, seven had been part of a religious congregation organised by the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi’s Nizamuddin West.

Anthropologists fear that the import of this deadly and virulent virus to the archipelago will put at risk the aborigines there. Most of those who travelled to Delhi to attend the congregation at Nizamuddin, which has now emerged as a coronavirus hotspot (also read this), are converts to Islam belonging to the indigenous Nicobarese tribe.

The Nicobarese have close contacts with some of the other aboriginal tribes like the Greater Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas and Shompens. Diseases like chickenpox and smallpox that followed their contacts with the outside world led to epidemics that decimated most of the population of these aboriginal tribes.

Anthropologists have long argued for isolation and segregated protection for the aboriginal tribes of the archipelago (read this).

“Their (the aborigines’) immunity is very low since they have lived for centuries in isolation. They are very vulnerable to bacteria and viruses from outside,” anthropologist Swastika Haldar told Swarajya.

“In the past, contact with outsiders and their exposure to alien viruses and ailments wiped out large numbers of these aborigines. Hence, the urgent need to protect them from getting in contact with people from the rest of the world,” Haldar added.

While the Sentinelese, who number about 150 to 200, are hostile to outsiders and shun any contact with them, the Nicobarese have been preyed upon by proselytisers the most (read this). Conversions by Christian missionaries flourished during the British rule, and Muslim traders from Minicoy Islands who settled down in the Nicobar Islands.

Later, Muslim traders from Gujarat started visiting and trading with islanders and settled down there. Many Nicobarese Christians have also converted to Islam in recent years, triggering resentment and opposition to religious conversions from the Christian community there.

Last Friday (27 March), five people from the Muslim community who had attended the Nizamuddin congregation tested Covid-19 positive. Another young man who had also attended the Tablighi Jamaat event tested positive on Monday (30 March), while yet another had tested positive last week.

The coronavirus-infected people had travelled to their homes in various parts of the archipelago and, fear island administration officials, may have infected countless others. Since the Nicobarese have contacts with the other aboriginal tribes, there are chances that they could have passed on the virus to the other tribes by now.

“We have traced many people the Covid-19 positive persons had come in contact with and have isolated them. The process of contact-tracing is still on,” said a senior officer of the Andaman & Nicobar administration.

“God forbid, but if the coronavirus infects even one person of any other tribe, it will wipe off the entire tribe,” said anthropologist Haldar.

The Tablighi Jamaat is said to be very active in some of the islands and many mosques and madrassas have come up in recent years.

The orthodox Salafi form of Islam has also taken roots in the archipelago of late. A large number of Salafi preachers and maulanas have been flocking to the group of islands.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.


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