After the killing of American missionary John Allen Chau by Sentinelese people in the North Sentinel island, it had emerged that he went to the restricted area flouting rules, and he went there to spread Christianity. But now efforts have begun to whitewash the crimes of the missionary.
Controversial media house NDTV has published an article on its website claiming that an order of the government of India may have facilitated John Allen Chau in violating the rules. They are referring to an order of ministry of home affairs issued in June this year which had removed the requirement of Restricted Area Permit (RAP) for visiting 29 islands in Andaman & Nicobar Islands. North Sentinel Island was one of those 29 islands.
As we have already clarified, removal of RAP for the island does not permit anyone to visit the place without prior approval. This is a misinformation being spread by media to somehow prove that the missionary didn’t violate any rule and instead Indian government is responsible for his death. This is absolutely wrong.
The same MHA circular which had relaxed the RAP requirement had also stated that other restrictions for visiting various places in the islands will continue as before. Section 2 (VII) of the circular said that “separate approvals of the competent authority continue to be required for visiting Reserve Forests, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Tribal Reserves as is the case at present”.
Under the Foreigners (Restricted) Areas Order, 1963, the entire union territory of Andaman & Nicobar, and parts of Sikkim are declared as ‘Restricted Areas’. Similarly, several states in the north-eastern region and parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and remaining parts Sikkim are declared as Protected Areas. Foreign tourists wishing to visit these areas are required to obtain a Restricted Area Permit (RAP)/Protected Area Permit (PAP) from Indian government authorities before doing so.
In a bid to develop the tourism industry in these areas, the government has relaxed the norms in recent times. As part of that, the RAP requirement was relaxed from 29 islands in Andaman & Nicobar.
It is important to note that Restricted Area norms applied to the entire Andaman & Nicobar, and it is not specific to protected tribal areas. For the protection of tribal areas, forest areas, and other sensitive areas, there are other stringent norms in place, which have not relaxed by the government. The North Sentinel Island is protected by Protection of Aboriginal Tribe (Regulation), 1956 and the Indian Forest Act, 1927. Therefore, even if the RAP requirement has been relaxed, going to the island without permission is still a violation of the rules. To claim that RAP relaxation encouraged John to carry on the misadventure is dishonest.
Moreover, John Allen Chau knew he was violating the rule. The version of fishermen who took him to the island makes it abundantly clear. They have been arrested and they have revealed that the went to the island in the night to escape patrolling by coast guard and navy. John’s diary also makes it clear that he knew he was violating rules. He wrote, “God Himself was hiding us from the Coast Guard and many patrols,” after reaching the North Sentinel Island.
The objective of John’s visit, to convert the last remaining isolated tribe in the world to Christianity, is also clear from his diary that he left with the fishermen. He wrote, “Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?”.
After the relaxation of RAP norms, some organisations had opposed the move. At that time, the Union Territory administration had clarified that other restrictions for tribal areas will continue and nobody is allowed to go to places like North Sentinel island, and a buffer zone of 5 km around it, without prior approval after extensive scrutiny.
The decision to include the North Sentinel in the list of islands relaxed from RAP regime is indeed questionable. Perhaps it was an oversight by at the home ministry or at the administration of Andaman & Nicobar. But even with the relaxation of RAP, the island remains a protected area and media should stop this attempt to hide the illegal activities of the Christian Missionary.