Highlights / Notices

    Draft Policy for Shom Pen PTG of AN Island

    No. 17014/5/08-C&LM-II (Part)

    Government of India

    Ministry of Tribal Affairs

    Inviting views/comments/suggestions on the draft “Policy for the Shom Pen Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PTG) of Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

    The Ministry of Tribal Affairs has formulated a draft “Policy for the Shom Pen, PTG of Andaman & Nicobar Islands”. A copy of the said Policy is already in the Ministry of Tribal Affair’s website (www.tribal.gov.in).

    The Ministry of Tribal Affairs invites views/comments/suggestions on this draft Policy for Shom Pen PTG, which may be conveyed to the following address, either through e-mail or by post by 1st October, 2009 positively.

    (Dr. N.K. Ghatak)

    Joint Director

    Telefax. 23383965.

    Dated: 1-9-09

    Joint Director,

    Ministry of Tribal Affairs Room No. 218 A,

    ‘D’ Wing Shastri Bhawan,

    New Delhi-110115

    e.mail address: nkgghatak@yahoo.com




    1. Introduction and present life style

    The Shom Pen, according to Trivedi R.et al, are one of the most isolated and poorly understood contemporary hunter gatherer population that inhabit the southern most island of the Nicobar Archipelago. Genetic analysis provides evidence that they are an offshoot of the Nicobarese deriving their origin from at least two source populations in the Indo-Chinese/Malay origin.

    The Shom Pen live a nomadic life moving from one habitation to another in search of fruit and hunt that is till now found abundantly and sufficiently in the thick rain forests of the Great Nicobar Island. According to one study, there is a degree of distinction between Shom Pen who live in the southern coast of Great Nicobar Island and the others who live deeper inside.

    Their features are tanned Mongoloid and their hair is generally straight. The existence of curly haired Shom Pen, coupled with their comparatively dark skin, leads to the belief that they would have been a Negrito admixture, sometime in history.

    Presently, the Shom Pen live in about twelve habitations made of bamboo and leaf thatch. They number just about 398 persons according to the 2001 census. A recent UT Administration survey, however, seems to put their number at 297 including 9 persons missing after the December 2004 Tsunami. It is generally believed that the Shom Pen did not suffer during the Tsunami because their habitations were at places located higher than the sea-level.

    The Shom Pen live on fruit of the kewry tree (Pandanus tanctoria). Besides, they eat fish, wild pig and sometimes reptiles and crocodiles. They love eating wild honey and now know that wild honey has a market in the surrounding non-Shom Pen areas especially at Campbell Bay.

    The Shom Pen chew “Pan” leaves abundantly found in the forests of Nicobar. They also chew beetle nut. But nowadays they also chew tobacco obviously introduced by outside labour engaged by the Border Roads Organisation. It is believed that they do not drink alcohol. According to Verma, 1989, the Shom Pen are generally anemic and suffer from fungal, viral and vector borne illness. The Shom Pen are endogamous. Isolated instances of Shom Pen girls marrying outsiders have been reported. In fringe areas, they have also learnt basket making and weaving. In these areas they sell honey, lemons and other items that they collect from the jungles and sea shores.


    2. Administration:

    Tribal welfare in the Great Nicobar Island is administered by Deputy Commissioner Nicobar who is also the Chairman Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP). Development and welfare programmes, for the Shom Pen, are carried out by members of the Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS), a non-government society established specifically in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands for the tribal welfare. The members of the AAJVS are the persons who actually interact with the Shom Pen. The junior staff of the AAJVS, unfortunately, appear to be unmotivated, untrained and unaware that the Shom Pen are a unique, vulnerable heritage tribe of our country. Because of the distances involved, their main supervising officer based in Port Blair has hardly any control on their well being or behaviour. Since there is very little chance of another person being available to take his/her place if a person is pulled up for activities harmful to the welfare of the Shom Pen, strict disciplinary action is not taken! Shom Pen welfare and development, therefore, cannot be ensured unless the persons entrusted, and to be entrusted with this responsibility are well selected, well trained, well motivated and well remunerated besides being well recognized for good work.

    3. Protective Legislation:


    The following safeguards, either in the form of legislation or executive orders, are available to the Shom Pen living in the Great Nicobar Island:

    (1) Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation, 1956.

    (2) Area reservation prohibiting only authorized persons to enter.

    (3) Ban on transfer of tribal land to non-tribals without the prior sanction of the Union Territory Administrator.

    4. Policy prescription

    (a) Survival:

    (i) Ensuring that the Shom Pen survive and grow in good health is the primary task before the Union Territory Administration. The first intervention to ensure this is to immediately (within two years) build up a non-intrusive data base on each family, on a format that needs to be designed in consultation with experts from the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI), the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and other prominent national institutes/universities. It would be essential to begin the exercise by selecting personnel from these organizations who could quickly learn the Shom Pen language so that in the process of data collection it would be possible to learn about Shom Pen beliefs, attitudes to life and social relationship. As has been put by an expert from Calcutta University, “there is need for anchoring it (the policy paper) on a good data base of the Shom Pen; which is not available”. It should also be possible to associate and train the Shom Pen youth in data collection and rudimentary analysis.

    (ii) All experts who have been associated in the drafting of the policy paper unanimously agree that contact the outsiders would be “dangerous, harmful and destructive”, “no outside intervention in the life and culture of Shom Pen should be allowed”, “if interaction with outsiders is not banned, the Shom Pen way of living would die out too”, but certain specific interventions that could be sensitively designed to improve their reported but yet to be confirmed; high infant mortality rate (IMR)or control other causes of IMR could be structured through open consultations with the Shom Pen. The boundary condition for any external intervention has to be the willingness of the Shom Pens to participate or to be left alone.

    (iii) If limited intervention for increasing the chances of the survival of the Shom Pen is to be taken up, who should do it? Suggestions have been made that institute outside these areas who have gained expertise in working with tribals should be involved; that “Shom Pen boys and girls themselves could be trained on issues relating to their life style rather than bring outsiders”, and that volunteers and university students/teachers could be involved. However, it should not be overlooked that a structure of the AAJVS already exists for tribal welfare in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and ultimately it being the link between the administration and the Shom Pen, it is this organization whose members should be empowered and trained to perform these functions in consultation with the national institutes. A provision in the AAJVS rules, regulations and functions may be made to enable this to happen.

    (b) Contact:

    (i) Unlike the Jarawas, who are bound to come into contact with outsiders because of their location in the central islands, the Shom Pen are likely to remain relatively isolated in Great Nicobar. Great Nicobar island, having very few conventional tourist attractions, will not see any great influx of outsiders. Eco-tourism, as and when it picks up will, however, become a major area of concern for the Shom Pen, but if regulated from the beginning, may not pose any threat. But the question that will keep on being debated is how much contact should be encouraged between the Shom Pen and the outside world?

    (ii) The short and logical answer to this question is provided by the long conceived Jarawa policy (2004). The Shom Pen should, like the Jarawas, be allowed to live in their own way and only when they seek outside interference/assistance, should these be sensitively provided. The fact that Shom Pen do not encourage outsiders to visit their settlements and their womenfolk hide in the forests whenever outsiders are in the area is the best indication available to show that they do not like to be approached.

    (iii) On the other hand, Shom Pen males often visit Campbell Bay to barter various products they collect, especially wild honey. Sometimes, they go there to collect ration, whenever they feel the need for it, which they bring to their village. But most often, the Shom Pens are happy to remain in their habitat, undisturbed. Therefore, again keeping the Jarawa experience in mind, the East-West Road inside the Shom Pen reserve should not be completed or repaired and the surrounding jungle should be allowed to encroach upon it. In the context of the easy manner in which the Shom Pen go to Campbell Bay there is no point in re-establishing the Shom Pen hut complex on that road, 27 kms from Campbell Bay. One certain benefit the closure of all activities on this road will have on the Shom Pen will be the restriction of contact with unconcerned road labour and their ill habits.

    (iv) Contact with tourists should be strictly forbidden, essentially because they and tour operators are unlikely to be aware of the dangers of even “humanitarian” gestures - like distributing sweets or creating unnatural expectations (Jarawa youngsters are known to demand bananas, biscuits and even chewing type tobacco from tourists by stopping their vehicles). Boat operators should be made aware of government policy on this and violations strictly punished.

    (c) Protection of their natural habitat:

    Luckily, most of the areas in the Great Nicobar island are protected under the Forest Act or the Wild-life Protection Act. This should continue and the Andaman & Nicobar Administration should not attempt any construction in the Shom Pen territory in the name of development. There are enough natural resources in these forests to provide for the survival needs of the Shom Pen. Encroachments, even if by the much better off Nicobarese, should be firmly dealt with and removed.

    (d) Climate Change:

    In the context of the climatic changes that are now being predicted, the Andaman & Nicobar (A&NI) Administration requires to take atleast two specific measures to decrease the vulnerability of the Shom Pen, as well as other particularly vulnerable tribal groups and the islanders from sea level rise and massive tidal waves. The Shom Pen like other tribals are sensitive enough to apprehend potentially destructive behaviour of the seas. Traditionally, they have moved to higher ground at more than one location. The protection of such higher grounds from encroachments must be ensured.

    Climate change is also expected to adversely affect vegetation and cropping systems. The Shom Pens are not agriculturists and, therefore, has less likely to be adversely affected. Their territory, should be protected and if protected, should offer sufficient gathering and hunting opportunities for their survival. As one expert has put “they need no outside for their survival. What they need is the protection against wrong doers who force them directly or indirectly to change their life and surroundings”.

    (e) Health Interventions:

    (i) The Shom Pen exhibit very robust physical and mental health. If at all they seek minor help at Campbell Bay, the treatment should be cautious; particularly in the use of antibiotics. A treatment regime for the Shom Pen (and the Jarawas) should be designed through ICMR so that inexperienced doctors do not treat these vulnerable groups in the same way they treat others.

    (ii) Investigation of their health status through invasive techniques should be rarely done unless situations strongly warrant e.g. epidemics.

    (f) Shom Pen Vs. the Nicobarese:

    Whereas the number of Shom Pen as per 2001 Census is only 398, the Nicobarese are 28653. Since the Nicobarese are more economically advanced and live along the coast, there will be pressure to link up the eastern part of the Island with the western through the East-West Road. Again, taking a clue from the Jarawa policy, a route along the south of the island, along the coast should be the only option.

    (g) The AAJVS:

    The AAJVS staff need special attention. The A&N Administration should make them feel special as ultimately, they are ones who are interacting with the Shom Pens. They should be continuously trained by competent organisations like the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) and given excellent service conditions. However, no leniency should be shown to them if they exhibit un acceptable behavioral traits (like heavy drinking, tobacco use, moral turpitude) that can have adverse impact on the Shom Pen. Upgrading the standard of the AAJVS should be a legitimate charge on any development funding.

    5. Other issues:

    (i) There are indications that the Shom Pen do not get good exchange for their produce when they go to barter these at various market points. Since the local administration are aware of the items they get on barter (essentially clothing, iron implements and plastic containers) pictorial representation of typical exchanges, placed at various points, and also distributed in the habitations, will make them more aware.

    (ii) Interestingly, the Shom Pen feel the need to wear clothes only when they approach Campbell Bay. So, administration and visiting (authorized) dignitaries should not distribute clothes, especially synthetic ones.

    (iii) Full isolation is not feasible . Tubes of Pepsodent toothpaste have been found in remote coastal habitats (Laful) indicating that either the local fishermen or the AAJVS staff have shared such products with them. For the present, it would appear sufficient if tourists are discouraged to visit the Shom Pen area and all activities on the East-West Road stopped.

    6. Additional measures:

    (a) The Shom Pen shall be considered and treated as a unique human heritage of our country. (b) Communities around the Shom Pen inhabited areas, and personnel working for the protection and preservation of the Shom Pen have to be repeatedly sensitized about the need to preserve this ancient community and to value their unique culture and life style.


    (c) No intervention should create in the Shom Pen any dependency syndrome. (Isolated Jarwas, introduced to “outsider” food are now frequently raiding peripheral houses, resulting in avoidable tensions. Food of the type they consume, can continue to be provided at Campbell Bay).

    (d) The Shom Pen, when admitted to the designated hospital at Campbell Bay, shall gradually be weaned away from any free food. Easy barter should be introduced. In any case, they shall not be provided food which is alien to their normal dietary habits.

    (e) No exploitation of natural resources within the Shom Pen Reserve area will be permitted by any non-tribal or Government agency. National Strategic needs will be fulfilled from beyond the Shom Pen reserve.

    (f) Provisions of A&N Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation, 1956 will be strengthened and enforced effectively. The Regulation should be amended to provide for deterrent punishment for poaching as well as for abetting poaching inside the Shom Pen territory and for entering the Shom Pen reserve (and buffer) areas without tribal pass. Entry restrictions on the lines of Lakshadweep and North-East should be legally introduced and enforced.

    (g) The notified Shom Pen territory should be fully and visibly demarcated and no curtailment, reduction or acquisition shall be made for any purpose. The possibility of recognizing their territory under the Constitution should be explored.

    (h) A 5 km. radius buffer zone on land and sea around the reserve area would be notified to prevent any commercial and tourism activity. Indeed, no major commercial activity should be encouraged or permitted in the entire Island as the potential of harming the eco-system and the tribals who live in such areas can potentially be very dangerous.

    (i) All encroachments in the Shom Pen territory shall be removed within a specified time. Arrangements will be made to ensure that such encroachments do not take place in future.

    (j) No permanent residence for Government employees/ non-tribals/AAJVS in the Shom pen reserve area will be allowed. They can be temporarily accommodated, in camps, if their services are needed for any research or welfare intervention.

    (k) Cross infection from non Shom Pen during treatment of Shom Pen patients in hospital will be avoided through isolation.

    (l) A plan/guide covering the action to be taken in the event of any medical emergency, like an epidemic, should be prepared by the A&NI Administration involving doctors who have worked for long in the Islands, doctors who have experience of doing such work in other areas of the country and national level institutions like the ICMR.

    (m) Officials/workers engaged in the protection and welfare of Shom Pen, as well as for research will be regularly screened to ensure that they are absolutely free from any communicable diseases.

    (n) The Shom Pen have a dynamic relationship with the Nicobarese. Hence, attention has to be paid to such interactions and the interaction points. Further, the population of the Nicobarese is growing at a faster rate. So, there is bound to be constant and increasing pressure from them on the Shom Pen reserve and may be, their life style. Therefore, regular sensitization of the Nicobarese, on the need to protect the Shom Pen and their way of life has to be carried out by the island administration, as per the protocol to be designed by AnSI, ICMR and other qualified Institutions.

    (o) No non-Shom Pen ferry/boat/engine dingy movement from Campbell Bay to any part of Shom Pen settlement situated on the seashore like Lawful Bay, Trinket, should be allowed except for bonafide welfare activities authorized by the A&N Administration.

    (p) Operation of the Policy may be reviewed after ten years in order to delete or incorporate provisions in the interest of the Shom Pen and in the context of time.

    (q) The functioning of AAJVS should come up for a detailed review, every two years, according to a set of well designed anthropological parameters, in a special meeting of the Governing Body of the AAJVS, to which the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Planning Commission must be associated.

    (r) The primary responsibility for the protection of Shom Pen shall lie with the A&NI Administration.


    Ministry of Tribal Affairs

    Government of India