The Andaman and Nicobar Islands administration had no plans to have any confrontation with the Sentinelese tribe, who killed an American national recently, and was moving cautiously on its investigation, respecting the existing laws that protected the reclusive islanders from outsiders, a top police officer said on Tuesday.
Director General of Police Dependra Pathak rubbished the reports of the police calling off or suspending their investigation and efforts to retrieve the body of national John Allen Chau, killed on North Sentinel Island during the course of his illegal trip to the forbidden piece of land.
“It is bereft of truth,” the top official said, negating the reports of the police winding up their operation in the case.
“The administration has no plans to have any confrontation with the Sentinelese tribe,” he said, adding that in the initial stages of the operation, it was decided that the law protecting the Sentinelese would be respected and the police continued to do so.
“The police are maintaining a delicate balance between carrying on the probe and respecting the existing laws that prohibit outsiders’ physical contact with the Sentinel islanders,” he said.
Mr Chau, 27, was killed on November 17, based on the account of the fishermen who had taken him to the island, hiding from the glare of the Navy and the Coast Guard.
The fishermen had said they saw a body being buried on the shore on November 17, which, from the clothing and circumstances, appeared to be that of Mr Chau.
It was said that the American national was killed possibly with arrows. But, Andaman Police Public Relations Officer (PRO) Jatin Narwal had last week said it was a subject of probe.
The access to North Sentinel Island and its buffer zone is strictly restricted under the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes (Regulation), 1956 and the regulations under the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
Mr Chau had made trips to the island five times earlier too, before this misadventure.
He had paid Rs 25,000 to the fishermen for the voyage starting November 14.
Giving details of the police action so far, the DGP said the probe team had made three trips to the island to “reconstruct the moment-to-moment movement of the US national on the prohibited island”.
Besides an aerial survey, the team had gone close to the island twice through water and drawn a “sketch-map of the place of the incident”, he added.
Mr Pathak said to move ahead, the islands administration was in discussion with anthropologists, academics and the “knowledgable locals” to gather more information about the ways of life of the Sentineles and other related details about them.
Contact had been established with TN Pandit, the former head of the Port Blair-based office of the Anthropological Survey of India, who had in 1991 made a trip to the island and had a “happy” interaction with the natives, in course of which he had given coconuts to them, he added.
“The police are also scanning the 2006 incident,” the DGP said.
In 2006, two Indian fishermen, who had moored their boat near North Sentinel to sleep after poaching in the waters around the island, were killed and their boat broke loose and drifted onto the shore.
Seven persons — six fishermen and Chau’s contact in Port Blair, Alexender — arrested in the case were being quizzed regularly, Pathak said.
Asked about the mechanism to ensure that such incidents did not occur in the future, he said the checking and patrolling were robust but there was scope for improvement.
“Our investigation and the diary written by John said their entire plan to move to North Sentinel Island was camouflaged. He had also mentioned that god had sheltered them from the Coast Guard”, the DGP added.
Thirteen pages of hand-written notes of the American national, which the fishermen who had ferried him to the island had given to Alexender, had a vivid account of the adventure to the island.
Hours before he was killed, Mr Chau had survived an arrow attack by a short-statured tribesman as it hit the Bible he was carrying, the diary of the American has revealed.
The hand-written notes of Mr Chau, who was killed when he tried to enter the prohibited North Sentinel Island, also mention that he wanted to acquaint the tribal people with the message of Jesus Christ.
Mr Pathak had earlier said Mr Chau “appeared to be a staunch believer” (of Christianity).
The Sentinelese people are among the tribes that survived the 2004 tsunami without any help from the outside world. For the 2011 Census, the enumerators could locate only 15 Sentinelese people — 12 men and three women. However, their population could be anywhere between 40 and 400, according to experts.
The natives of the island have a past record of attacking visitors.