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Madhumala Chattopadhyay: Indian Woman Who Established First Friendly Contact With Sentinelese Tribe

Written By Daamini Sharma | Mumbai | Published:

Sentinelese--one of the few un-contacted people in the world, who have lived in the North Sentinel Islands of the Andamans for an estimated 60,000 years, shunning any contact with the outside world. Traced back to the Palaeolithic age, they are considered as the first inhabitants of India. Many attempts have been made and innumerable risks were taken to build a connect with the tribe but all were turned away with bows and arrows. Small parties were sent by the Anthroplogical Survey of India in the early 1970s but to no avail.  

Another team of the Anthroplogical Survey of India set sail for the island in a small craft at around 8 am in the morning, A team of 13 with key team members--team leader S. Awaradi (director, tribal welfare, A&NI administration), medical officer Dr Arun Mullick (for providing medical attention in case of sickness or injury) and anthropologist Madhumala Chattopadhyay. The rest were support crew.

Read: He Lost His Mind, Definitely: John Chau's Friends Recall His Year Long Research On Andaman Tribe

The purpose- same old- to attempt a friendly contact with the Sentinelese. No one expected anything but another failed attempt that will be added in a file and kept for ages in an unknown room or cupboard. But unlike in the past, this mission had one difference, there was a women anthropologist in the contact team.

On 4 January, 1991, travelling more than 1,200 kms from the Indian mainland, MV Tarmugli, the Andaman Nicobar Administration ship, put down its anchor off Allen point on the southwest part of the North Sentinel Islands. A young Indian woman anthropologist waded waist-deep into the coral reefs to hand over a coconut to a man from the Sentinelese tribe. This was the first-ever friendly contact with this hostile tribe of the Andamans.

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This was the first time a woman was a part of a contact expedition with the Sentinelese, and they put their guard down. The presence of a woman indicated that the contact party meant no harm. This braveheart anthropologist is Dr Madhumala Chattopadhyay, then a researcher with the Anthropological Survey of India spend six years researching the various primitive tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Madhumala is also the first woman to be accepted by another Andaman tribe, the Jarawas, with whom she established a friendly relationship, especially the women folk. 

Read: Police Returns 400 Metre From Shore After Spoting Andaman Tribe Armed With Bows And Arrows

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