Wednesday, December 30, 2009



Today is yet another historic day in the history of the great Indian Freedom Movement. It’s the 66th anniversary of the hoisting of the National Tri-color for the first time on the Indian soil by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

It was on this day i.e. December 30, 1943, that one of the greatest freedom fighters in the history of modern India, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had hoisted the National Flag for the first time at the Gymkhana Ground, Port Blair, the current capital of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, declaring the Islands, the first Indian Territory freed from the British rule.

The Andamans, at one time, precisely during 1942, had fallen into the strong hands of the Japanese, when they had made a fantastic effort and overpowered the British. And it was during that time that Subhash Chandra Bose had paid a visit to the terrifying Cellular Jail, during his brilliant period of escapade to various places outside India.

While in Singapore, Rash Behari Bose had handed over the responsibilities of Indian Independence League to Subhash Chandra. It was here that he formally announced the establishment of Azad Hind Fauj, and was christened Netaji. After conducting several meetings, Bose visited the Andamans and Cellular Jail in 1943. The eerie muteness of the place reminded him of the torture and toil the prisoners had to face in the hands of the merciless British oppressors.

And it was here on 30th December, 1943 that Netaji had hoisted the Indian National flag, making the historic effort to make the Andaman and Nicobar Islands free from the yoke of the oppressing British.

During the Second World War, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands fell to the Japanese forces on 23rd March 1942, when the ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy swooped on the islands of Ross and Chatham which were the entry points to Port Blair. Within the next two days, the Japanese completed the occupation of Port Blair, arrested the remaining British officials and established their own administration. It lasted till October 1945. Subhash Chandra Bose visited Andamans in December 1943.

Netaji took over the direct command of the Indian National Army on 25th August 1943. He inspired his companions in these words: 

"Comrades, Officers and Men, with your unstinted supported and unflinching loyalty, Azad Hind Fauj (The Indian National Army), will become the instrument of India’s liberation.... With the slogan - “Delhi Chalo” (onwards to Delhi).... on our lips let us continue to fight until our national flag waves over the Viceroy’s house in New Delhi and Azad Hind Fauj holds the victory parade inside the ancient Red Fort of the Indian Metropolis."

The provisionary Government of the Azad Hind was formed on 21st October 1943. The event was announced solemnly at a meeting of Indian representatives from all over East Asia at Sathey Cinema Building in Singapore. A proclamation was issued under the signatures of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose as the Head of State, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, who took the oath of allegiance to India in the following words: 

"In the name of God, I take this sacred oath that to liberate India and the thirty eight crores of my countrymen I, Subhash Chandra Bose, will continue this sacred war of freedom until the last breath of my life. I shall always remain a servant of India and look after the welfare of the 38 crores of Indian brothers and sisters. This shall be for me my highest duty. Even after winning freedom, I will always be prepared to shed the last drop of my blood for the preservation of India’s freedom."

The provisional government of the Azad Hind was recognized by Japan on 23rd October 1943, and was also recognized by Germany, Way, Manchuko, Philippines, Burma, National China, Hungry and Croatia.

On 8th November 1943, Netaji announced in a press release that the return of the Andamans to the Indians would be the first territory to be liberated from the British yoke. After mutual discussions, it was settled that the defence and foreign affairs would continue under the Japanese government, but the charge of other departments of the administration would be handed over to the Azad Hind Government.

At mid-day on 29th December 1943, Netaji accompanied by Sarvashri Anand Mohan Sahay, Captain Rawat - ADC and Col. D.S. Raju, personal physician of Netaji, landed at the Port Blair aerodrome in the Andamans. He was received by the Japanese admiral at Port Blair. The enthusiastic Indians and Burmese also accorded a warm reception to him. Netaji went around the historic Cellular Jail where the walls told him, in silence, the woes of the political prisoners who were tortured there. He also saw the courage and enduring spirit that braved the vehemence of the British authorities. Netaji paid glowing tributes to the noble sacrifices of the Indian heroes.

On the following day, 30th December 1943, the National Flag was hoisted by Netaji on the liberated Indian soil, an act first of its kind in the history of the oppressive British rule in India. All the ceremonies of retrieving the lost territory from the enemy were held with joy, pride and jubilation. The national anthem i.e. the anthem of the Azad Hind Fauj (The Indian National Army) was sung in chorus by all present, which added to the gravity of the occasion.

During the course of the day, the National Flag was hoisted at the Gymkhana Ground at Port Blair and atop the British Chief Commissioner’s residence in the Ross Island, the then capital of the Islands. Netaji expressed the hope that some day soon the same flag would fly on the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi.

In a press interview in the first quarter of 1944, Netaji had stated that by the acquisition of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the provisional government had become a national entity in fact as well as in law. The liberation of the Andamans had symbolic significance, because the British always used them as a jail for political prisoners. Part by part, Indian territory would be liberated, but it was always the first plot of land that held the significance. The Andamans were renamed as `Shaheed` in the memory of these martyrs and Nicobar as `Swaraj`.

The administration of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was formally handed over to the ‘Azad Hind Government’ on 17th February 1944.

His historic visit to the island made a symbolic fulfillment of his promise that INA would stand on the Indian soil by the end of 1943.

A memorial stands today at the Andaman Club, Netaji Stadium, the erstwhile Gymkhana Ground as a testimony of his visit to the Islands and the indelible historic moment of the very first hoisting of the country's tri-color.

Salute to Netaji!!!

*** JAI HIND ***

Excerpts & stats courtesy:

Monday, December 28, 2009



Meghana Rajshekhar

the gallant13 years old D/o an Indian Air Force Officer posted at Car Nicobar, survived the killer Tsunami for 3 days at the Kakana coast in Car Nicobar.

The mystery unfolds further…

Human Spirit Shines Through Tsunami-cast Gloom
Dear friends, Meghna Rajshekhar is the 13 year old girl from the Car Nicobar Island, survivor of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26th December, 2004. She survived by clinging on to a door plank in the ocean near Car Nicobar for two days without any water and food.

The gallant daughter of late Indian Air Force Officer, Squadron Leader Raj Shekhar, Meghna was swept out to sea along with her father, her mother, younger brother and 77 others. While the others drowned she floated for two days on a wooden door plank.

On 26 December 2004 morning, 35 feet high gargantuan waves of the catastrophic Tsunami struck the Indian Air Force Base in Car Nicobar. She was washed away in the ocean with her parents. She cried 11 times when rescue helicopters hovered over the Andaman Sea in search of feebly possible survivors. After two and a half days, the door plank on which she was clinging drifted towards the shore. She was swarmed by snakes and suffered severe bruises. She was found walking in a daze by the local Nicobarese tribal people of Car Nicobar, one of whom helped her reach the Indian Air Force airport on his damaged bicycle.

Her parents, however, were not spared by the 35 feet high wave which destroyed the air base. She was sent to Hyderabad to stay with an uncle, her closest living relative.

Meghna trembled visibly when she sighted her favorite coffee mug in the rubble that had once been her home on the Car Nicobar Island. "I want to see my home," the 14-year-old girl said on reaching the remote Island on 26th December 2005 for a memorial service for the 119 Indian Air Force personnel and their relatives who died on December 26, 2004.

I still have vivid memories of her graphic interview that we watched on NDTV on the 29 December, 2004, sitting in the verandah of our house at Port Blair as we didn’t dare to go indoors due to the unrelenting series of hundreds of aftershocks of the massive earthquake. My eyes are invariably filled with tears every time I reminisce about it.

Meghna was so astonishingly eloquent about her unimaginably horrendous experience of the fiasco. "I remember seeing choppers passing overhead 11 times and several times relief planes passed but they did not spot me and finally a wave threw me back on the shore," Meghna said. The badly-bruised girl was found 20 kilometers (12 miles) from her wrecked home two & a half days later.

"I fought off sea snakes to stay alive and today I want to see my home for the last time," the 9th -grader said.

Trembling, she walked gingerly through the cordoned-off rubble near Car Nicobar's golden beaches. Tears glistened as she picked up household objects.

"Hey, my bangle… and… Oh! Here's, dad's shoes!" she said of her father, an Indian Air Force meteorologist.

"I've found my coffee mug... mom used to fill to the brim with milk," Meghna whispered after picking up a bone-china cup filled with snails and sea garbage.

“Meghna's escort, Lieutenant Colonel N Chakravarty, broke down while the top-ranking commanders attending the memorial service at Car Nicobar watched in silence as the young orphan walked through the debris,” reported Vishnu Som of NDTV on 28 December, 2005, a year after the disaster.

Chakravarty's two children were Meghna's best friends until they too perished in the Andaman Sea along with their mother.

Following medical treatment, Meghna was handed over to her grandparents in the southern city of Hyderabad where she was enrolled in a boarding school.

"During holidays I go and spend time with anyone I like," she said pointing to surviving Indian Air Force officers and their families attending the service.  "They are my fathers and mothers. I love them as much as they love me," she said, tears staining her flowing white shirt.

The girl said she was determined to write a book about her spine-tingling ordeal.

"I have already completed two and a half chapters of my experience and I want to record the experience of others in the rest of my book but first I want to complete my studies."

Commander Salil Mehta, a former colleague of Meghna's father, was at her side like a shadow.  "It takes guts to come back to a location of such unimaginable tragedy," said Mehta, unable to conceal his own emotions as Meghna tugged at the sleeves of his ceremonial naval uniform jacket.

The 18-year-old went into a shell the day she also gave up collecting butterflies. It was the day the tsunami struck their home and took away her parents and eight-year-old brother.

Five years after the tragedy, now, the emotions she can’t speak about may yet find release. Every night before going to bed, Meghna sits at her desk in her hostel to pour her emotions into a diary. Some day she might get it published.

Meghna had been a curious child. She had got up early that Sunday morning for some “fishing and for collecting butterflies and insects” for her “zoological collections” when the waves came.

She spent the next two days and nights alone on the beach surrounded by the dead, turning them over one after another to see if her parents and brother were among them.

A year on from then, the news channel ‘Aaj Tak’ telecasted another interview of the brave-heart… The teenager seemed to have coped somewhat as she finished her exams, refusing to let the tragedy cost her a year. But she’s turned a loner. “She doesn’t watch movies; she won’t even accompany her classmates to picnics,” a teacher said. “She is afraid of the waves; she sometimes has hallucinations.”

I take my hat off to the exemplarily gallant Meghna Rajshekhar who can undeniably be considered a true idol for all the children the world over. It was her late father’s prudent teachings and upbringing that helped her understand the nature of the waves, sea creatures like snakes, flow of the wind and the position of the constellation of the stars in the sky to her life-saving advantage in such unheard-of adverse conditions. And, of course, the supremely brave composure that’s the benchmark attribute of the daughter of a valiant Air Force officer.

God bless her!!!

Friday, December 25, 2009



Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveler, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!

Instead of being a time of unusual behavior, Christmas is perhaps the only time in the year when people can obey their natural impulses and express their true sentiments without feeling self-conscious and, perhaps, foolish.  Christmas, in short, is about the only chance a man has to be himself.

“Christmas is forever, not for just one day,
for loving, sharing, giving, are not to put away
like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf.
The good you do for others is good you do yourself...”

May your holiday season be blessed with peace, love and joy!

My heartfelt wishes to all my friends the world over, with joy that never ends…!!!

Have a Merry Christmas


A Happy New Year!!! J

Monday, December 14, 2009



Tragedy of the Shompen

The Shompen are as precariously poised on the brink of extinction as the four other hunter-gatherer tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are the home to four Negrito and two Indo-Mongoloid tribes. Those belonging to the Negrito racial reserve – the Great Andamanese, the Onge, the Jarawas and the Sentinelese - are still at hunting-gathering stage of economy. Small in number, sensitive and isolated, they have been under severe stress. The Indo-Mongoloid clan of the Nicobarese, relatively sturdy and resilient, has accepted the challenge of change and have prospered and multiplied. The members of the other Mongoloid community, the Shompen, semi nomadic and living in small, scattered settlements, still shy away from outsiders. They are somewhat better off than the Great Andamanese and the Onge, whose numbers have sharply dwindled. However they are not as isolated as the Sentinelese and the Jarawas.

Ancient tribe, The Shompen: Their self-sufficiency is slowly being undermined.

It is India’s last island and its largest. Beyond it stretches the mighty Indian Ocean. One of the historic archipelago of over 572 islands & islets in the Bay of Bengal, known as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Great Nicobar first entered the wider public consciousness in December, 2004, when the catastrophic Tsunami wreaked havoc on the island. Great Nicobar, with its rather large habitation, of settlers from the mainland India at Campbell Bay suffered colossal damage, both in terms of human lives and in terms of property and infrastructure. The scars are still hauntingly vivid, about five years later.

The lighthouse at Indira Point, Campbell Bay, left submerged by Tsunami

Its Tsunami connection apart, Great Nicobar is also known as the land of the Shompen, one of the last surviving stone-age tribes in the world. Not as well known as the Jarawa tribe of the Andaman Islands, the Shompen are as precariously poised on the brink of extinction as the four other hunter-gatherer tribes (the Jarawa, the Andamanese, the Onge and the Sentinelese),” wrote an astounded Meena Gupta in The Hindu about three years ago, which stimulated me to write this post, today.

Classified as a Primitive Tribal Group (PTG), the Shompen have light yellow-brown skins, straight hair, narrow eyes and stocky build, giving them a strong resemblance to the people of Myanmar (the erstwhile Burma) and Indonesia.

Like the Jarawas, they are skilled hunter-gatherers but, unlike them, also raise plantations of various crops such as pandanus and lemon and colocasia. They subsist primarily on these plants, wild boar, wild fruits, honey and fish. And like the Jarawas, they are, by and large, disease-free.”

The tragedy of the Shompen — indeed, of all the primitive tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands — is that until a few decades ago, they were monarchs of all they surveyed. Only 50 years down the line, their lands have been occupied, their forests chopped down, their animals hunted and they themselves outnumbered by people from an alien culture.

History has it that unlike the major islands of the Andamans and some Nicobar Islands, Great Nicobar was, by and large, undisturbed by incursions of outsiders until the late 1960s. The Shompen lived in the interior of the island, inside the forest and along the rivers; the Nicobarese lived along the coast, to the north of the island. The two tribes lived in a kind of armed truce after intermittent skirmishes.

A major influx of population started in 1969 with the settlement of several hundred ex-servicemen from the mainland India on the south-eastern coast of Great Nicobar, and a proposal to settle several hundred more on the western coast. Even more damaging, the East-West road (measuring 43 km in length) was constructed through the pristine Shompen territory. Thus, a tribal reserve area under the Andaman and Nicobar (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation, 1956, was opened to outsiders.

The area of the reserve has also shrunk over the years. The ‘reserved area’ in Great Nicobar, which initially covered the whole island (1044.54 sq km as per the notification dated 2 April, 1957, issued by the Chief Commissioner of the Andaman and Nicobar islands), has been reduced to 853.19 sq km. The population of outsiders has been growing steadily since 1969, while the number of the Shompen, which is alarmingly low, has remained stagnant or is shrinking.

According to the Census, the population of the Shompen was 212 in 1971, 223 in 1981, 131 in1991, and 398 in 2001. These figures are, of course, estimations and the discrepancies, particularly in the last figure, are quite obvious, as the Shompen, being forest-dwelling, nomadic hunter-gatherers and averse to the entry of others into their settlements, do not lend themselves to easy or accurate counting.

Several development activities are currently being carried on in Great Nicobar, all with an inevitable deleterious impact on the Shompen. Some are security-related given the strategic location of Great Nicobar almost at the southern end of India and its proximity to many international shipping routes. Such activities cannot, perhaps, be avoided.

A Shompen family (1980s)
But the three major issues that pose the greatest danger to the Shompen are not defence or security-related: the burgeoning population of outsiders, the renovation and construction of the East-West road through the heart of the Shompen reserve, and the free food and other items being given to the Shompen by the government.

Despite the fact that Great Nicobar was severely affected by the 2004 Tsunami, it does not seem to have had any permanent impact on the number of people who wish to live there; the population today has grown considerably from that in 2001. Apart from the impact on the Shompen, the numbers need to be controlled and reduced from the point of view of the island’s carrying capacity.

The island’s ecology will indisputably be destroyed by such large numbers and so will the people who live in harmony with it. And this, my dear friends, is not an alarming issue that is confined to the Great Nicobar Island only, but is rather a very burning issue in the larger interest of the entire delicate coral islands of Andaman & Nicobar that have been rendered even more vulnerable after the massive earthquake & Tsunami of 26th December, 2004.

Permanent shelters constructed in Great Nicobar after Tsunami
The construction and repair of the East-West road is an even greater threat to the Shompen. This road, which had been constructed long ago and abandoned, fell into disrepair and was not used for several decades. Indeed, there was no real need to maintain it since the settlement on the western coast which the road was supposed to link, never came up. Since the Tsunami, however, repair work on a lot of structures was taken up, including on the East-West road.

Thus the Shompen are faced with the renewed danger of incursions into their territory. Moreover, the laborers from the mainland bring with them a totally different culture. Even more worrisome, they bring diseases to which the Shompen have little or no immunity. Such diseases can spread like an epidemic, as happened some years ago when diarrhoea killed a large number of the tribe.

But, by far, the most damaging activity is the administration’s new-found practice of doling out free rations. This has been in operation for some years, but increased after the tsunami, in the mistaken belief that the Shompen were being protected from hunger and starvation. The Shompen, who are a totally self-sufficient hunter-gatherer-grower people living on wild animals, fruit, tubers, fish and honey, are being given rice and biscuits and alien food products. They are also being given cloth, though the Shompen have an ancient tradition of making cloth out of tree bark, which they wear swathed around their waists.

Thus an insidious culture of dependency is being created, undermining the self-sufficiency of these people so closely attached to Mother Nature, precisely on the lines of what is being done with the originally self-reliant Nicobarese. And all this is irrefutably thanks to the worsening culture of vote-bank politics in India.

As a matter of fact, the issues of the aboriginal tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar islands are so different from that of the other tribes elsewhere in the world that it calls for an extremely sensitive, prudent and specialized administration. Unfortunately, most senior officials in the Andaman and Nicobar come to the islands from the mainland India, for a brief period and do not have a clue about the adept approach required for these rare heritage tribes. Such officials also end up resisting any kind of sensitization, invariably.

Unless the administration wakes up to the fact that they have a very uncommon and precious commodity in the form of these heritage primitive tribes, one that needs extremely delicate and sensitive handling, it is more than likely that these few hundred people will, in due course, disappear, leaving an indelible scar in history about the thoughtlessness of the so-called caretakers of humanity, something which would trigger a state of emergency vis-à-vis the very existence of our habitat, at large.

Excerpts courtesy: Meena Gupta, the Hindu; Stats: world's oldest tribes

Friday, December 4, 2009




The Indian Navy is celebrating Navy Day today, the 4th December, 2009 as a tribute to the valiant maritime operations taken by the Indian Navy during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. The Naval component of the Andaman & Nicobar Command is carrying out various events spread over a week also known as “Navy Week” beginning today. Intensified maritime surveillance and other operational tasks by the Navy in the Andaman Sea region have been the principal thrust of the Joint Andaman & Nicobar Command.

Navy Day is the anniversary of the daredevil attack on Pakistan’s only naval base at Karachi, in 1971. Besides, “the Indian Navy has made an enormous contribution to our Islands. From providing security to these Islands for over forty years to establishing lines of communication over the far reaches of these islands to specialized medical attention to its denizens when needed. The yeoman job rendered by the naval component of the Joint Command in relief and evacuation during the catastrophic Tsunami that struck the Islands on 26th December, 2004, is an unforgettable service to the Islanders,” said Lt. Gen. (Retd) Bhopinder Singh, while greeting the Indian Navy.

Let me proudly share with you all, dear friends, on this momentous occasion, certain salient facts and figures about the historic establishment of the first ever Integrated Command in the country.

The First Integrated Command:

The location of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands confers great strategic advantage. Their economic and tourist potential also dictate a sound security presence. As India’s Easternmost Bastion, the ANC is charged with the responsibility for the defense of the A & N territories, its air space and waters. ANC is raised as India ‘Look East Policy’, of reaching out to the defense of India’s maritime neighbors and building ‘Bridges of friendship’.

The Andaman & Nicobar archipelago of over 572 islands & islets stretches like a necklace around the Andaman Sea. North to south, the chain extends over 720 kilometers. At its widest, its only 51 kilometers. Constituting approximately 8249 square Km of landmass, the islands have 1912 Km of coastline. The archipelago is at a distance of approximately 1200 Km from India’s Eastern seaboard and 450 Km from the Malay Peninsula. Myanmar’s Coco Islands towards the North are just 42 Km away and Aceh in Indonesia is 163 Km from the southernmost tip of Great Nicobar Island, which, in fact, is also India’s southernmost tip.

After the 1962 war, a need was felt to enhance military presence in these Islands. Consequently, INS Jarawa was commissioned at Port Blair on 15th February, 1964. This was followed by the commissioning of INS Kardip at Kamorta on 28th April, 1973. The establishment was renamed – Fortress A & N (FORTAN) in 1981with a Rear Admiral as the Fortress Commander. Utkrosh Air Station was commissioned on 11th May, 1985. The Fortress Commander was upgraded to a three star appointment in 1987. FORTAN got a Tri-service character with the induction of 108 Mountain Brigade from Lekhabali (Arunachal Pradesh) on 15th December, 1990 and the raising of 37 Wing at Car Nicobar on 16th September, 1993. As regards, Coast Guard, the Regional Headquarters was amongst the first three Regional HQs that were set up after the enactment of the Coast Guard Act in 1978.

Further, the Government of India approved the establishment of the ANC as an Integrated Command on 11th May, 2001. The directive from Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) on setting up of ANC was issued and the Command was raised on 8th October, 2001, under the first Commander-in-Chief A & N (CINCAN), Vice Admiral Arun Prakash, AVSM (Ati Vishishta Seva Medal), VrC, and VSM. All components of the three services and Coast Guard located in the Islands were placed under the operational command of CINCAN.

Vice Admiral Arun Prakash with then Lt. Governor, Prof Ram Kapse and Lt Gen Aditya Singh

Salute to the Indian Navy! JAI HIND!!!

Data & figures courtesy: The Daily Telegrams