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The historical significance of Andamans

When the plane starts its descent to Port Blair, the picturesque islands effectively hide the depths of the black holes in Indian history. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands holds a whole repertoire of historical significance; a visit to the islands reminds you that our forefathers have indeed paid a very heavy price for our freedom today.

The very establishment of human settlement was warranted by the need to create a penal colony. Lieutenant Archibald Blair was assigned to survey the hydrography of the islands and explore and suggest sites for the penal colony in 1788. A visit to the Andamans is guaranteed to replenish gratitude in the visitor: for large tracts of the Island bear historical significance and remind the visitor of the enormous, nay ultimate sacrifices made by the freedom fighters. Alas, we do not cherish the values fought for by the freedom fighters! …more…

Impressionistic piece on Cellular Jail

Cruelty and barbarous crimes meted out to the prisoners included physical torture and exploitation. Exploitation manifested in the form of labour camps and starvation. Inadequate food supplies once caused arbitrary execution of prisoners. Prisoners were selected randomly for drowning in the vast expanse of the oceans surrounding the forlorn volcanic islands. The rock hewn emerald waters of the Bay of Bengal that surrounds the mystical islands came to be called Kala Pani. Even today the words Kala Pani evokes fear and hatred for the colonial masters on the one hand and commands respect and patriotic fervour at the same time in the visitor. Reliving the horrific experiences of the day in the well conceived light and sound show of the Cellular Jail is a must do for the visitors to the Andamans. 6 prisoners were once drowned in the deep waters off the Island of South Andaman. The monument to liberty – the dreaded Cellular Jail stands as a mute witness to the barbaric atrocities and human rights violations that were committed by the colonial yoke.

Labour exploitation of various hues is still etched as scars in many nooks and crevices of the notorious prison. Jailor David Barry was particularly notorious for his ruthless governance in the jail. He was known for supervising the extraction of 50 to 80 pounds of coconut oil within 8 man-hours. If the prisoners could not comply with this kind of unrealistic deadlines they were flogged rather mercilessly. Most of the inmates of the prison were freedom fighters of the day, and not surprisingly they were inspired by the flames of rebellion touched off by the civil disobedience movement on the mainland. Each new prisoner brought with him the flaming passions of the civil disobedience movement and it was not long before the inmates unified under the stewardship of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar to launch a hunger strike against the barbaric atrocities committed by the jail warden David Barry. One prisoner – who was on the verge of dehydration was force fed by the prison authorities. During the force feeding the prisoner on hunger strike was apparently made to lie down on his back with his hands tied and another co prisoner was made to sit on his chest. Jailor Barry supervised the force-feeding and he was fed rice wine through his nostrils because the hunger striker would not open his mouth. The stress of the bizarre ritual took the life of the inmate even as he choked. The panicky jailor then ordered that the corpse be disposed off in secrecy at night fall in the Kalapani off the coast, barely a stone throw away behind the Cellular Jail. …more…

The challenge of reconstruction in Tsunami ravaged Andamans

“Statecraft took over where the leadership failed in its vision and statesmanship. This is where the test of patriarchal governance is at its most critical. Still in a state of shock it fell on the administrative machinery to respond to the natural calamity. Today, thanks to the democratic ethos of India’s polity, we are able to scrutinize the role played by the State. The same cannot be said of governance in neighbouring countries like Indonesia, Myanmar or Sri Lanka. This autopsy serves as a lesson for States everywhere in disaster management”.

“The first phase of Rescue and Recovery included emergency measures such as search and rescue of survivors, recovery of the wounded and traumatised missing people, attend to the wounded and injured, airlift them to hospitals for medical aid and treatment, supply food rations for the survivors, ensure there are no starvation related deaths, ensure drinking water supply for the survivors, clear the debris from the Tsunami, cremate / bury the dead, dispose off the carcasses of cattle and livestock, and sanitise the affected areas to prevent outbreak of epidemics in the aftermath of the calamity”.

“At any given time of natural calamity or any kind of emergency the paramilitary forces will assist the civilian administration on receiving a request. We render all possible assistance making available all resources, manpower, logistics, support and supply systems; but we retain the command structure of logistics. Though the Airforce station’s housing complex at Car Nicobar collapsed, and the Airforce personnel suffered casualties, the air force station was the first in responding to the calamity stuck southern islands. The Air Force was able to transport supplies from mainland India in 4 hours flat. Next the Carnic (Car Nicobar) air base was rendered fully operational within 48 hours. This was so vital to ensure that the supply chain was not affected. The planes were loaded in Carnic and had to airlift cargo and supplies to other islands in the Nicobar Islands”

I dared to use the “toilet” in Kakana village. It was no more than a hole in the ground. Zinc sheets covered the roof and so called walls, while a tattered plastic sheet serves as a door. Expecting a tap would be too much, I thought, but I was not prepared to confront a millipede inside this toilet! Decaying leaf litter, stink, ineffective drainage, acute shortage of water, and no light, a pathetic approach to the toilet are the hazards one has to face while using the toilet. … more …

Survivors’ description of the Tsunami

The people in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are still shocked and shaken by the tsunami of December 26, 2004. It was a living nightmare for them, the scars of which refuse to go away.

“The Tsunami water was very hot and smelt of kerosene, like it had chemicals in it. I do not know why it was like that. There was also a loud noise like that of a motor pump running the waters of the sea. We lost everything… we lost all our life’s savings, but we are fortunately alive”. “When the tsunami stuck, it washed away our household. It took the lives of my fisherman son Nicothimas, and my wife. My daughters who are married and live in Port Blair survived. Even the photographs of my son and wife were washed away”. “Zameen Hila. Madam Zameen zabardust hila. Paanch minit ke bad hum ne dekha ki samundar ke pani aa raha hai. It was around 6.30 a.m. in the morning and since we had a full house and there was a request for packed lunch, I was busy preparing food for the day tourists. But when we saw the water coming in, we ran for our lives, I remember leaving the gas stove on, food was cooking but I ran as fast as I could away from the engulfing waters. The water was as high, or perhaps higher than the coconut trees on that hill you see there… it was so scary. Waters rushed over the cliffs of Port Blair into the valley there. For days after that we were petrified. There were so many after shocks, we kept feeling the earth tremor so many times every day. Even now we shudder to think of the ground giving way”. “Coconut trees were swaying between their vertical positions to the ground - such was the magnitude of the earthquake. The earth was splitting under our feet and water was gushing from under our feet”. “We poured gallons of diesel and petrol on them and lit them afire en masse. It was very heartbreaking, very depressing.” … more...

The Tsunami affected fisheries

The people in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are still shocked and shaken by the tsunami of December 26, 2004. It was a living nightmare for them, the scars of which refuse to go away.

“The Tsunami water was very hot and smelt of kerosene, like it had chemicals in it. I do not know why it was like that. There was also a loud noise like that of a motor pump running the waters of the sea. We lost everything… we lost all our life’s savings, but we are fortunately alive”. “When the tsunami stuck, it washed away our household. It took the lives of my fisherman son Nicothimas, and my wife. My daughters who are married and live in Port Blair survived. Even the photographs of my son and wife were washed away”. “Zameen Hila. Madam Zameen zabardust hila. Paanch minit ke bad hum ne dekha ki samundar ke pani aa raha hai. It was around 6.30 a.m. in the morning and since we had a full house and there was a request for packed lunch, I was busy preparing food for the day tourists. But when we saw the water coming in, we ran for our lives, I remember leaving the gas stove on, food was cooking but I ran as fast as I could away from the engulfing waters. The water was as high, or perhaps higher than the coconut trees on that hill you see there… it was so scary. Waters rushed over the cliffs of Port Blair into the valley there. For days after that we were petrified. There were so many after shocks, we kept feeling the earth tremor so many times every day. Even now we shudder to think of the ground giving way”. “Coconut trees were swaying between their vertical positions to the ground - such was the magnitude of the earthquake. The earth was splitting under our feet and water was gushing from under our feet”. “We poured gallons of diesel and petrol on them and lit them afire en masse. It was very heartbreaking, very depressing.”… more …

Intro to eco tourism in Andamans

Life in a metro can be jaded especially if you have to work against deadlines and stare at the computer screen for hours on end for a living. What could be better I thought than to soak my soul in the Sea or sink my toes in white sand beaches? My cousin was availing of LTC benefit to hit the sun soaked sands of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. I decided to join them on the family holiday. Who would not like to rejuvenate one’s soul in the lap of Mother Nature? Would you like to check out a mud volcano or a lava spewing volcano? Would you like to go snorkeling or scuba diving or watch the spectacle of coral reefs from the safety of the glass bottom boats? …more ...

Volunteering at the oplve ridley turtle nesting site

It was only in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands that I truly appreciated the beauty of the new moon night for the first time in my life… It was a starlit night… a whole curtain of diamonds dripping across the moonless sky. I was on a mission to track the endangered Olive Ridley turtles as they came ashore to lay their eggs. I went to check out the nesting sites and hatchlings in the Ramnagar Beach on the new moon night. On reaching the sand cliff I was told to alight from the jeep as we had reached the beach. But, pray where? I could not see anything! As the headlights of the jeep were turned off and my eyes got used to the darkness around me, I finally summoned the guts to get out of the jeep barefoot and sink my toes in the sands… After a couple of minutes I could make out the faint outline of white foam of the waves. The noise of the breaking waves alerted me to the fact that the sea was indeed very close. … more ...

The ship journey is unforgettable for a few unpleasant reasons

For landlubbers the rare voyage across the high seas is always an experience to remember. I will remember the journey from Andamans to the mainland for a long time. I opted to come back to the “mainland” by ship, knowing fully well that the voyage was to last 2 and half days and 3 nights! The deluxe cabin ticket cost around Rs. 6000, but still cheaper than an average airplane ticket, with sea spray and the sight of bounding dolphins thrown in for good measure! Beats an airplane ride most times! But, the attendant brouhaha can indeed be very challenging. The system is, to say the least, very chaotic. Let’s start with the booking of tickets. One has to go to the ticketing counter of the Directorate of Shipping Services in Phoenix Bay, Port Blair. Though there are counters for ladies, only men stand in the line. Presumably they are booking tickets for women! There are no seats in the huge hall. Foreigners rest against their massive haversacks, and Indians are scampering around desperately. Touts have a field day in the absence of any kind of signboards. There are no signboards to indicate where one can get the requisition form / application for reservation. Nothing to indicate the documents that need to be attested for one blessed ship ticket either! What if one has to go to the blessed DC’s office to get a ship ticket? … That was the case to get back to Port Blair from Carnic (Car Nicobar) anyway. One has to go to the different counters and quite literally beg for a requisition form, and the unseen and harried clerks at the booking counters send you from one window to the next. … more ...

The Tsunamis impact on agriculture in the Andamans

That - natural calamities like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes wipe out entire societies and civilisations is well known; but that the destructive power of Nature reengineers the entire socio economic and political fabric of societies is being documented by the Fourth Estate perhaps for the first time. The Media is in a position to document all aspects of the impact of the most calamitous event in recent history: how the Asian Tsunami affected agriculture, fisheries, tourism, trade, society, economy and culture; here we take a look at the Tsunami’s impact on agriculture. The Asian Tsunami that followed the mega earthquake on 26th December 2004 had a devastating impact on the Andaman, and perhaps more importantly in the Nicobar Islands. The towering waves not only washed away thousands of people to the merciless sea, but it also brought the sea to the land. This has left permanent scars on the landmass and the livelihoods of the Islanders. … more ...

 

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