Aborigines: Let Sentinelese be Spared of Evangelism

Recently, the Indian mainstream media and Press was buzzed with two sensational news items: the one that made headlines was an American national killed by an aborigine tribe in India's Andaman and Nicobar islands; and the other was about a19 months old victim of pellet guns used by the Indian Army in Kashmir. While the American John Allen Chau was projected by many as a keen traveller and adventurer, the baby girl Heeba was cited as the youngest victim of the pellet guns horror, which according to one report have ravaged hundreds of lives in Kashmir since 2016. Ironically, the media was more interested in highlighting the privileged nationality or age and religion of victims rather than actually looking into the circumstances and merit of the cases.

Although violence in any form is unfortunate and deplorable but at times it becomes imminent and unavoidable in compelling situations. Any contact with the endangered Andaman tribes living in isolation from the world has been declared illegal under the law mainly because of the aborigines’ reluctance to accept outsiders as also risks to them from potential infections and diseases. So why did the man illegally enter the prohibited island in the first place to establish contact with them and also what was his real motive behind this venture? Similarly in the second case, the operation of the Indian Army was underway against certain despicable and hardcore terrorists in the area; when some stone-pelters tried to obstruct the operation, why should a woman with a small baby be part of such crowd? It is well-known that some misguided people including boys and women paid by the separatists in the Kashmir Valley often try to obstruct security forces by stone-pelting and other means. However, the subject here is the Sentinelese people and a misplaced missionaries zeal to bring them under their fold.

A Tragic Event Indeed

As the news of a killing by the aborigines in the North Sentinel Island spread, a large section of the mainstream Indian media portrayed the American national as a keen traveller and adventurer, while more established US based Cable News Network (CNN) and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported 26 years old John Allen Chau as a missionary. According to sources of the AFP news agency and Hindustan Times, Chau had tried to reach the island on 14 November 2018 but his attempt did not succeed. Then after two days, he again made an attempt with the assistance of some local fishermen whom he bribed with handsome amount of money to take him to the restricted island in a boat. There he was attacked by arrows and later the same fishermen witnessed from a distance some tribal men tying a rope around his neck and dragging his body.

Reportedly, his body was spotted on 20 November but it could not be recovered because even the police can neither visit nor arrest islanders them under the normal conditions. According to the police sources, the man was from Alabama, USA and possibly a paramedic with a missionary zeal who wanted to establish contact with the tribal population to spread the message of Jesus Christ. There is still some confusion about his antecedents as apparently in an interview to the Outbound Collective, an adventure group, the man had reportedly introduced himself in 2014 as a soccer coach in Vancouver interested in travel and adventure. Police findings suggest that he had set out with the hired fishermen under cover of darkness and paddled a kayak ashore before he was killed by the tribals. He also carried gifts for the islanders, including a soccer ball, fishing line and scissors.

North Sentinel Island and Its Aborigines

The Sentinelese or Sentineli people are original inhabitants of the North Sentinel Island for the millennia; various estimates put this span anywhere between twenty to fourty thousand years. This island is part of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal and the aborigines are classified as a Scheduled Tribe who are among the world's most uncontacted people. Most of the assessments and perceptions about these people are based on aerial surveys and observation from a distance as they continue to avoid any contact with the civilized world. Their exact population is not known but more reliable estimates put their number between 50 to 200 individuals.

In fact, the official Census data attempted during the last two decades i.e. 2001 and 2011 put this figure much below. All attempts in the past to interact with these people have been unsuccessful as they have been hostile and even killed outsiders in the past. It is of the common understanding that due to complete isolation through millennia, they might be lacking immunity towards even common viruses like influenza and measles; hence an exposure with the outsiders may even endanger their survival. Therefore, for the protection and welfare of the aborigines as also the safety of people, the Indian law had forbidden outsiders traveling within the three miles of the island in the past.

The Sentinelese are known to be Negrito by origin with dark skin and small stature. They do not appear to wear any clothing. The tribe falls in the category of the efficient hunter-gatherers; they use bows and arrows to hunt terrestrial wildlife as also to protect themselves from any potential dangers. Not much is known about their food habits but it is commonly believed that they are employing rudimentary methods to procure their food and have not evolved beyond the stone-age in the process. Their abilities to do metal works, agriculture, or even make or use fire are often debated and a subject of speculation. The fact that they had survived the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004 had surprised many experts which they ascribed to their intuitive power and synergy with the natural phenomenon.

These people speak their own language i.e. the Sentinelese language, about which nothing is known in the outside world. As they do not interact with the people knowing other language, any translators or interpreters are also not known. Based on some attempts made by researchers during the 1980s to communicate with these people, some analogies in respect of their language and food habits have been established with those of the Onge Tribe inhabiting the neighbouring Little Andaman Island that belongs to the South Andaman administrative district. So far all attempts to establish contacts with them have not yielded positive result and Islanders’ have repeatedly shown that outsiders are not welcome.

For illustration, as back as in 1880, a British naval officer Maurice Vidal Portman is known to have visited the North Sentinel Island with an armed group and brought back (captured) six Sentinelese viz. an elderly man, woman and four children. The man and woman died within days and surviving children were restored back after some unsuccessful attempts to befriend them. Whatever the British claim but the fact is their assault on the island and the death of two Sentinelese had an extremely negative effect. After independence, a group led by an anthropologist TN Pandit is known to have made sincere efforts in 1967 to explore the island and befriend Sentinelese. His attempts too were not successful though he reported some deserted huts made of grass and leaves including fire, roasted fish, wild fruits, spears, bows, arrows and half-made baskets. During subsequent visit of Pandit in 1991, reportedly there was a brief amicable encounter in which some islanders even came out on shore to accept coconuts offered but the presence of some Onge people in the team angered and antagonized the Sentinelese.

A National Geographic team too visited in 1974 along with some anthropologists and armed police only to face a hostile group of Sentinelese with bows and arrows. Towards mid-nineties, the Government of India too set up a welfare agency that made a series of futile attempts and the programme was finally abandoned in 2000. On all occasions, the aborigines did not allow the teams to go near them and they had to leave gifts on the beach or drop it adrift near the coastline. The last reported violent event was the death of two Indian fishermen in January 2006 whose boat it seems drifted into the shallows of the island. Their boat was attacked and fishermen killed, and later even a helicopter was attacked when it attempted to recover the dead bodies. With these experiences, the Government of India decided not to make any further attempts to befriend them and the island declared totally out of bounds for outsiders.

How John Allen Chau Met His Nemesis!

It is not only illegal to visit or establish contact with this endangered Tribe, the government had also declared recently that taking photographs or making videos of the aboriginal Andaman tribes would be punishable under law with the imprisonment up to three years. Despite this position, reportedly, John Allen Chau had visited North Sentinel Island at least three or four times in the past also with the help of local fishermen and possibly with the intention to preach Christianity to them. Ever since Chau’s death different narratives have appeared in the national and international media. Broadly, the sequence of events appears as under:

The 26 years old American missionary Chau was trained and sent by Missouri-based “All Nations” church. He traveled illegally to the North Sentinel Island with the assistance of local fishermen allegedly by bribing them about rupees 25,000 ($357). He intended to make contact and stay amongst the Sentinelese with the hope of converting them to Christianity. He paid to the fishermen on 14 November 2018 in Port Blair to take him to the island and the sail commenced after the nightfall to avoid detection and trouble from the administration. The fishing boat took him close to the shore and, as it appears, contrary to the fishermen’s warning, Chau proceeded alone in a canoe with Bible and gifts referred to in the foregoing paragraphs.

On shore he was attacked by the Sentinelese with arrows on 15 November. He retreated and recorded in his journal about his citations of the Bible quotes and offer of the gifts to the natives. As the islanders continued towards him menacingly, he swiftly retreated in his canoe. His encounter with the islanders was a mix of amusement, bewilderment and hostility with high pitched sounds and gestures. Notwithstanding this, when he attempted to present them fish and gifts, one boy shot a metal-headed arrow which struck his Bible forcing him to leave the island.

Next time, Chau asked the fishermen to leave without him on 17 November. Following this, the exact occurrences are not known as the fishermen reportedly only saw his body being dragged by the islanders, having already killed him. Ever since the killing of two fishermen in 2006, Chau’s death is the first casualty at the hands of the Sentinelese on violation of their land and privacy against their wish. The Washington Post has had the access of Chau's journal which suggests that he had a desire to convert the tribe and was aware of the risk of death, apart from the illegality involved in his visits to the island. Among many excerpts de-codifying his intent and mystery of death, Chau reportedly wrote at one place, "Lord, is this island Satan's last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?", …"The eternal lives of this tribe is at hand", …"I think it's worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people. Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed ..."

Subsequently, the police arrested seven fishermen for conniving with Chau in getting close to the prohibited island. Though the case is being treated as a murder but there seems to be no suggestion or move to charge the aborigines for the homicide. Human rights group “Survival International” suggested that the search on the island should be called off as it was "incredibly dangerous" for both the Sentinelese and officials. The NGO stated that there is a probability that the deceased passed on infection to the tribe with pathogens to which they have no immunity, "with the potential to wipe out the entire tribe". He was trying to convert the tribal people to Christianity. His body is still on the island and attempts so far to retrieve it have been unsuccessful.

More Conversion Attempts Elsewhere

Recently, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) police has arrested four priests and booked another 271 people on the charges of promoting conversion in Christianity and defaming Hinduism by spreading misinformation in August/September 2018 in the Jaunpur district. Reportedly, such reports in the past were underplayed and ignored by the local authorities which came in action only after the conversion racket and its modus operandi was exposed by a private channel of the mainstream national media and reports to this effect were published by a newspaper. The First Information Report was filed at the Chandwak police station in this district against the aforesaid people for the penal offences like cheating, defiling places of worship and prejudicing national integration.

Reportedly, the epicenter of the alleged criminal practices had been a church in Baldeh village where hundreds of the villagers from the surrounding areas of Jaunpur, Varanasi, Azamgarh and Ghazipur districts were lured to assemble on the appointed days. In such assemblies, the preachers and their accomplices used to convey the message of Jesus Christ citing Christianity as the superior and ultimate religion, distribute religious literature citing miracles and magical (holy) water capable of curing diseases including cancer, and so on. Most of the audiences were poor and backward people falling easy prey to such practices. A villager interviewed by the representative of the aforesaid news channel said that he was cured of the mouth cancer with the magical water from the church. When specifically asked whether his said disease was diagnosed by a qualified doctor, he innocently replied in negative. The news channel also revealed how cash in Indian currency was used to pay middlemen and target people in the process.

In yet another case in the Western UP in June 2018, another similar racket was busted. Reportedly, the Pastor of Mulhera church in Meerut was caught red handed when he was making the affidavits of seventeen Hindu families for embracing Christianity. Allegedly he had assured them Rs 15, 000 ($215) and government jobs if they abandon their religion to embrace Christianity. Needless to mention, all targeted families come from a backward and poor background, the uneducated and poor being the soft targets and easy to indoctrinate. This was not the only incident, the Pastor confessed to have earlier converted another four families in the area. In yet another case during the same month, a Dalit girl was lured for conversion, sold and married to a Ludhiana based Bazigar as per the Christian rituals.

Analyzing the Aforesaid Shocking Events

With more authentic versions gradually emerging out of the Sentinelese episode, it indeed appears that the chief motivation and enthusiasm of Chau was to befriend the islanders allegedly to save their lives with the message of Jesus Christ. This may be an isolated case but the incident also underlines the age old challenges to the Indian pluralist culture, continuous attack on the faith of majority community as also the chief reason of communal conflicts and violence. It one looks at it superficially, it seems like a routine violent incident but an insight exploration suggests a deeper design and conspiracy that is a part of erstwhile colonial bent of mind and ploy of church engaged in destroying the Indian culture and religion.

Investigation has revealed that Chau had visited Andaman & Nicobar Islands at least three times in the past between September 2016 and his fateful death recently. Several areas in Andaman & Nicobar Islands are restricted under the Scheduled Tribes Conservation act 1956 and Indian Forest Conservation act 1927. Any foreign tourist was specifically required to take Restricted Area Permit (RAP) to visit these areas. Recently, in June 2018 this restriction were lifted by the Home Ministry from some 28 Islands including the North Sentinal Island but it is still mandatory for the foreign tourists to report to the Regional Registrar Officer in this regard. As per available information, Chau had ignored these provisions and bribed local fishermen to take him on boat on 14 November to the Island.

Now the question arises what was the real intent of Chau for which he even put his life at stake and ultimately paid dearly for it. Ironically, while a section of the mainstream Indian media and people are trying to project him as an explorer and adventurer, at least one Christian Organization ‘International Christian Concern”, besides foreign media, has recognized him as Christian missionary and propagator in their accounts of the incident. The bitter truth, as it appears, is that he was keen for conversion of the tribal population in Christianity. This position is also vindicated from his thirteen pages letter written to parents that he reportedly handed over to the fishermen a day before his tragic death. Some of the extracts are quite relevant and revealing:

You guys might think I'm crazy in all this but I think it's worth it to declare Jesus to these people…Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed…Rather please live your lives in obedience to whatever he has called you to and I'll see you again when you pass through the veil…This is not a pointless thing - the eternal lives of this tribe are at hand and I can't wait to see them around the throne of God worshiping in their own language…I love you all and I pray none of you love anything in this world more than Jesus Christ.

Pluralistic and transcending culture of the Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) in India has been targeted by the foreign invaders and colonizers by unleashing fear, greed and deceit for centuries. First they were Arab and Turk invaders who systematically tried to destroy Indian culture and religion through coercion and by forcing Islam on the inhabitants of the Indian Sub-continent. The case in point is the Kashmir Valley, which was inhabited only by the Hindus and Buddhists till early thirteenth century, with almost entirely Muslim population now and a few lakh Kashmiri pandits living as homeless refugees in own country. Then European Colonizers were next with the Christian Missionaries who systematically tried to achieve similar objectives through evangelism in various parts of the country including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Prior to independence, most part of the far north-east region had tribal population with their own customs, rituals and religious beliefs. After independence, the successive governments did not pay much attention to improve their social and economic backwardness while the missionaries’ proselytism in the garb of so-called community service and humanitarian aid continued unabated. Consequently, today more than 88% in Nagaland and 87% in Mizoram (as per 2011 Census) is Christian population. Another state Meghalaya too is not far behind with more than 83% Christian population now. It is not very difficult to surmise or even state with precision what all tactics have been employed over a period for such a mass scale conversion totally changing the demography and original culture of the predominantly tribal population. A for more disturbing feature is wherever the church is too influential, such areas and population also appear quite estranged and alien to the mainstream Indian society and culture.

Historically, this trend had started with the arrival of Portuguese in Goa in the 15th century and British Chaplain of merchant fleet of the East India Company in 1647 in Madras (now Chennai). Subsequently, under the influence of church, the British issued The East India Company Act 1813 (or The Charter Act 1813) whereunder the Christian missionaries were permitted to propagate English and preach their religion in India. Thus the all-pervasive and perverse game of conversion that started in the name of charity and community service during the British time has continued unabated with the indulgence of so many foreign-aided voluntary organizations and support of self-proclaimed secularists and left-leaning liberals.

The fact that many of these evangelical projects have foreign hand and money was caught and exposed on many occasions. Consequently, the present government has taken steps to stop foreign funding. It is not surprising that rattled with these developments, recently the Archbishop of Delhi even came out with a circular, asking Christians to offer prayers and observe a day of fast on every Friday for a "secular nation" ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In his open letter to all Christians, he has appealed them to observe a Day of Fast every Friday by foregoing at least one meal and offering penance and sacrifices for the communities’ spiritual renewal besides organizing Eucharistic Adoration every Friday in all parishes, religious houses and institutions.

Quite obviously, the political parties and analysts have interpreted such prayers and other activities in the hope and support of a new non-BJP government. Many such murky organizations are wary of the FCRA Act which has put the dubious foreign donations under scanner thereby slowing or even stopping the conversion in many cases. A lot more is yet to be done because the evangelicals are active in schools, colleges and hospitals too with conversions and soft indoctrination, and are transferring money to the missionaries for their conversion projects. Ironically, a large section of the Indian mainstream media and secularists adopt double standards on conversion. While they create a lot of hue and cry on even isolated instances of the alleged Ghar Wapsi (i.e. Bringing back to the religious fold), they maintain absolute silence even when the conversion rackets like those of Meerut and Jaunpur are busted.

One wonders what kind of God is one Who is kind to the faithful and unkind to human beings not under the unbrella or fold created by His alleged faithfuls? Similarly what kind of holy people are those godmen who resort to disinformation, deceit and allurement in the name of charity and community service to target the poor and vulnerable to bring under their fold? Is this the true service to the humanity and God when someone indulges in bribing and false commitments to convince others about the true nature of God and His subjects? In the past, the colonial powers were known to exploit, demean and destroy the society, culture and economy of the colonized people for own vested interests and the acts of such religious groups and organizations appear to fall in the similar category in the new world order. Then equally disturbing is the double standard of the so-called secularists, liberals and intellectuals in the countries like India who interpret and respond to wrong-doings according to their coloured vision and selfish interests.


It’s good that Sentinelese people do not have to bother in their paradise about the pseudo-secularists and pseudo-liberals operating from the Indian mainland. They should better be left in peace with their destiny and whatever religion and god they profess there. If the Government of India has forbidden the outsiders including foreigners and public in the mainland for speaking to them with vocal or sign languages, and for touching or giving them any food , for sure it is with certain reasons and the spirit of these reasons must be respected by all. If Chau was an explorer or adventurer, there is a clear message for such people that they should better refrain from disturbing islanders' peace and find other avenues for adventure and exploration. There is so much still left in the universe for such purpose. Also if he was a missionary, the evangelicals should stay away and spare Sentinelese with their destiny.

There is no doubt that some omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent being is responsible for all creation, preservation and termination in the universe whether we call it God or give any other name. The crux of the matter is that God is one and the same for the entire mankind and these are the human beings who have created division, distinction and discrimination according to their belief, value system and selfish interests, giving different names and attributes to God. Therefore, the pervading belief or logic of clergy among the Abrahamic religions i.e. “my God is superior and holier than thou'st” and consequent relentless attempts of conversion of people of other faiths through coercion and evangelism is a highly misplaced and erroneous concept besides being the main reason for the tension and conflict among the communities in the world. Sooner this fact is understood and appreciated, better would be the prospects of peace, prosperity and security of the mankind.


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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