Poison drink kills vanishing tribals

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By TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
  • Published 11.12.08
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Dec. 11: Eight Onge tribals died on the island of Little Andaman after drinking a toxic liquid this week, bringing the endangered tribe’s total population down to 92 and causing international concern.

Fifteen other Onges are at a Port Blair hospital and at least one of them is critical, officials said. The dead include a woman and two boys aged 12 and 15, and the youngest among those ill is a boy aged 8.

The tribals had apparently drunk the liquid from a brown glass bottle on Sunday, thinking it was part of government rations, officials said. The tragedy comes at a time experts have told the government to cut off supplies to the Andamans’ tribals to force them to become self-sufficient like before and to reduce outside influence on their lives.

Officials suspect the liquid, samples of which have been sent for chemical analysis, could be alcohol that had been left behind by fishermen or other outsiders and had turned toxic. Government supplies do not include liquor.

“Having drunk it at Dugong Creek on Little Andaman, they began to fall ill. Five died on Sunday and three on way to hospital. The rest are at GB Pant Hospital in Port Blair,” South Andaman district police chief Ashok Chand said.

“'This is a calamity for the Onges. If any more die, it could put the survival of the entire tribe in serious danger,” said Stephen Corry, director of the London-based Survival International, a world-wide movement for tribal peoples.

Some tribes, such as the Jarawas and the Sentinelese, have already been weaned off government help but several others like the Onges and Shompens (of Great Nicobar) still receive supplies of rice, fruits, biscuits, clothes and other commodities. The aid is dumped somewhere near where the tribals live in the dense forests.