The murder of a five-month-old baby allegedly by a Jarawa tribesman in south Andaman has left police with the unprecedented prospect of arresting the accused, a member of one of the last untouched civilisations in the world.

A New York Times report said the baby – who was lighter in skin tone than the tribe – was killed over suspicion that his mother was impregnated by a non-tribesman to maintain the “purity and sanctity” of the Jarawa society.

India has a hands-off policy with the 400-strong Jarawa tribe who lived in complete cultural isolation until 1998.

The tribe camps follow their own millennia-old rituals and if they venture into nearby villages, they’re sent back into the 800 square kilometers of forest set aside, where they survive by hunting and gathering.

No commercial or tourist establishments are allowed within a buffer zone around the Jarawa reserve. The tribe’s declining population is also vulnerable to a host of diseases and germs brought by outsiders as their bodies don’t have resistance.

The first person to be alerted about the birth of a mixed-race baby was local tribal welfare officer, M Janagi Savuriyammal, when the baby’s mother brought him in for a check-up, NYT reported.

Five months later, Savuriyammal received an alarmed call from her field staff and rushed to the camp to find the baby missing and his mother crying silently, the newspaper wrote.

The officer filed a complaint with the police, triggering off an unprecedented sequence of events that hadn’t occurred in the past two centuries.

Two witnesses told police they saw an outsider drinking with a Jarawa man, Tatehane, who then slipped into the woman’s hut and took her baby. The child was later found buried in sand.

Police have arrested the man seen with Tatehane and the 25-year-old suspected father of the baby, who is accused of raping the Jarawa woman. But they did not arrest Tatehane, even though he was accused of murder, instead appealing for guidance from the department of tribal welfare, police superintendent Atul Kumar Thakur told NYT.

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