Tuesday, March 15, 2005


It is an irony of politics that the Andaman and Nicobar islands have ended up with India. They sit on the Burma plate and the people of Nicobar look and speak more like their mongoloid neighbours in Indonesia and Thailand.

These lovely islands though are governed from Delhi through the local administration - an administration that is so lazy, even a tsunami couldnt stir it to action. Atleast thats the chorus coming out of the enigmatic Nicobar archipelago, a region that is off-limits for visitors.

On a recent (and rare) junket organised by the Coast Guard, journalists were taken to Katchal, Kamorta and Campbell Bay so that the work done by the defense forces could be "showcased". It was planned in such a way that the journalists would have little time to really interact with the local people. My understanding of this attitude was only partial. I still dont see why the military was so nervous about the trip, why they insisted on herding us into buses and taking us exactly where they wanted us to go, why an army man called a poor tribal prince, a "bloody bastard" because he was speaking up for his community.

There is no doubt about the fact that without the services of the armed forces, getting help across to these remote islands would have been impossible. That said, it seems now that decisions taken in Delhi are being forced upon the islanders, and that their immediate concerns are of no consequence because there is a plan to follow.

For instance, the pre-monsoon showers are due end of March, so all over the little islands work is on to build temporary shelters. These are houses made of tin sheets, with a tin roof and mostly no windows. They absorb heat like a sponge absorbs water. The tribals are being forced to live in these ovens, when all the time they have been demanding tools so that they can build their own traditional homes on stilts, called 'machan', But there has been no sign of the tools.
Lieutenant General Aditya Singh, the second in command for the relief work, pre-empts too much cross-examination on this point by saying, "We may have compromised because of the urgency of the situation but during the final rehabilitation plan things will be done according to the peoples demands."

One hopes that is true because the tribal people really believe that this is the best time to make their voice heard.

Meanwhile, they hope to get around their immediate problem as well. The pig is intrinsic to the culture of the tribal Nicobari. The area of the traditional 'machan' house under the stilts is reserved for the animals and the family lives above. So the tribals have decided that if they are given tools and are able to build their own homes before the rains, they're just going to put their pigs into the tin houses. Don't know if the pigs will really like that, but it will be the most expensive pig sty in this part of the world.

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