So you must have already started feeling the goose-bumps after reading the first part of my illustrations about the “History of Civilization in Andaman”. Let me tell you, here, that it’s going to be an unfinished script about the chequered history of human settlement in Andaman. Let’s go further, now. Read on…
1881 – A NEW SOCIETY IS BORN
The convicts serving life term were not likely to go back to their home and hearth as the crimes they had committed were heinous and unpardonable from the moral standards of those times. Many of the convicts did try to go back and resume normal lives with their families in the mainland. But in a very large number of cases, they were not accepted by their families and they had to come back to the only other place they knew on the face of the earth.
The British government also wanted a permanent settlement to come up in the islands. To this end, it was necessary to bind the people to the land.
THUS – THE PENAL SETTLEMENT CAME INTO BEING
The female convicts after satisfactorily serving a term of 5 years and males after similarly serving a term of 10 years could opt to settle down with family. They had to apply to the District Officer with their intent of marrying a woman convict. Upon which, on a given date a parade of the convict women would be arranged where the “groom” could select his bride. They were afforded a chance to familiarize themselves by talking to each other under the watchful eyes of a warden or jailor. Thereafter, the consenting couple would be declared man & wife after due registration. The male convicts were advised to treat their wives fairly, take proper care and desist from ill treating them.
The couple was then allotted a piece of cultivable land on lease basis and some assistance in cash or kind to build a shelter and settle down.
In the meantime, the construction works were going on in full speed. Ross Island was developed into a capital housing the bungalows for the high officials and offices for the administration of the islands. A settlement was also started in Nancowry Island of Nicobar district. The Jail at Viper Island was completed, various village settlements, named after the Chief Commissioners and other officers of the time, were established. Free entrepreneurs also started arriving and setting up small trades to cater to the government officials and the departments. Roads were laid, medical facilities etc. were created.
The mutineers followed by the revolutionaries from Bengal and other parts of the country were not put to labour outside the jails. They too were put to impossibly hard work but the emphasis was more on humiliating them to the extent that they broke down mentally and morally. Finally, all the political prisoners were released and sent back to mainland in 1938.
1923 – MOPLAHS
There was a huge Moplah uprising in the Malabar district of the erstwhile Travancore-Cochin state in 1921. The rebels were tried and imprisoned in the Presidency Jail in the state of Madras. In 1923, they were deported to Andamans. They also became an inseparable influence in the evolving social fabric.
The confluence of various cultures, languages, religions, customs and traditions from Maharashtra to Assam and Afghanistan to Kanyakumari wove a unique cultural matrix.
Everything was going on fine. A new civil administration was in place. People were pursuing their business in peace and harmony and their children were looking forward to a bright future.
But destiny had its own designs. The condemned convicts and their descendents had some more dues to pay.
The rumblings of Second World War started shaking the countries and continents. Japan also joined the fray. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had his own plans to wage a war against the British Raj (regime) in collaboration with the Japanese Government. Andaman and Nicobar Islands provided the ideal springboard to launch an attack against the mighty British Empire on the mainland India. The Japanese Bombers started making sorties. The British forces were engaged in theatres that were more important to them. To the British, it was neither important nor necessary to spare any tears for the islands having a population of just about 30,000. The evacuation process was set in motion. All those who wanted to leave the Islands were free to do so.
MARCH 11, 1942 – THE FATEFUL DAY
The fateful date recurs with equal horror. Eight-four years ago, almost on the same date, the same month the British Raj had forced a batch of reluctant Indians to land on the inhospitable Island. And now the same British Raj was forcing another batch of reluctant Indians to board the last ship leaving for the mainland – to the safety of motherland. But they were not enthusiastic about boarding the ship this time either. A large population of about 11,000 people had nowhere to go. No state, no land, no home, no relations to look up to.
The last ship slides past the jetty, a huge crowd of condemned people – subjects of the British Crown – are left behind to fend for themselves.