Hi, Friends! On 26th December 2004, precisely four years ago, one of the world’s worst-known disasters – a Tsunami set off by an underwater earthquake – hit the ‘Floating Paradise on Earth’, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The southern part of the Islands, the Nicobars, took the major brunt of the earthquake and the killer tidal waves.
Junglighat Colony, Port Blair
Gandhi Chowk, Car Nicobar.
Hut Bay, Little Andaman
Restoration work at Car Nicobar after Tsunami
In the period following the disaster, the Islands received unprecedented attention and saw an influx of ‘outsiders’: both representatives of the administration as well as development workers from Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and elsewhere. Reconstruction and rehabilitation work started in full swing, and their results are not inconsequential. In fact, the Nicobar Islanders were one of the largest focuses of the tsunami rehabilitation efforts in Asia.
Sonia Gandhi with Tsunami victims at Car Nicobar
Four years on from the disaster, the results in some areas are reassuring. However, the pace of rehabilitation efforts seems to have slackened, according to the tribal communities, in certain areas. The Islands are located at considerable distances from each other and from Port Blair, the capital. Relief and recovery processes take long because access to the Nicobars require ‘landing permits’ or a ‘tribal area pass’. In ways more than one, the Nicobar Islands have a long way to go.
Funerals at Car Nicobar after Tsunami
Many in the administration argue that the situation is much better now than what it was on the islands before the tsunami. There are, for instance, two helicopters plying on a daily basis, covering the distance from Port Blair to the Nicobar Islands such as Car Nicobar, Campbell Bay, Kamorta, Teressa and also North Andamans. The quality and frequency of shipping services has improved, although marginally. If anything, there is greater resource allocation now and greater vigilance on the part of the community.
Murugan Temple at Malacca, Car Nicobar after Tsunami
This despondently points to the fact that it took a disaster to make the Government take note of the struggles of the people in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, especially the now-civilized tribal people of the buoyant Nicobarese community. The fate of the other aboriginal tribes of the Islands, viz. the Jarawas, the Onges, the Shompens, the Sentinalese and the Great Andamanese, remains unbeknown.
The Sentinalese, the most hostile of the Tribes in Andamans
A youth from the Shompen tribe of Great Nicobar
The heightened interactions with outsiders and systems after tsunami have been a compelling experience for most Nicobarese who are diffident by nature. The process of acculturation and integration is proving to be a painful one. The fact that monetary gains and greed determine social relations amongst ‘non-tribals’ and the realization that each person is out to make money (with the knowledge that the Nicobarese have received compensation monies) challenges local cultural norms in very deep and fundamental ways.
The olden days’ natives of Arong village, Car Nicobar
Well, friends! In most cases, the solutions are apparent and only require the will of the administration to be translated to reality. I, personally, am in the midst of things at Car Nicobar, as you already know, by way of the Child Led Disaster Risk Reduction (CLDRR) project of WBVHA supported by Save the Children – BRB and am coordinating a serious and sincere endeavor towards securing a better-planned and prepared future for the Nicobarese community with the support and assistance of the mighty Tribal Council of Car Nicobar headed by the Chief Captain, Mr. Aberdeen Blair and of course, Mr. Tapan Mandal, the farsighted Development Commissioner, A & N Administration. Hence, I shall keep you all posted about the journey ahead.