Monday, December 10, 2012

The Hindu : Opinion / Op-Ed : 'Because Andaman's forests are Jarawa infested …'


The picture shows a Jarawa woman being given some
eatables by the driver of a passenger bus on that section of the
Andaman Trunk Road that has been ordered shut by the Supreme
Court. The pictures were taken in February 2003, a few months after
the SC orders of May 2002, and were also submitted to the Supreme
Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee as evidence of
continued and undesirable interaction taking place on the Andaman
Trunk Road. I was sitting inside and at the back end of the bus when
taking the pictures. Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria

The picture shows a Jarawa woman being given some eatables by the driver of a passenger bus on that section of the Andaman Trunk Road that has been ordered shut by the Supreme Court. The pictures were taken in February 2003, a few months after the SC orders of May 2002, and were also submitted to the Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee as evidence of continued and undesirable interaction taking place on the Andaman Trunk Road. I was sitting inside and at the back end of the bus when taking the pictures. Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria

Infestation, in'fes•ta'tion n. the state of being invaded or overrun by pests or parasites. Do people inhabit the lands and forests that they have been living in for thousands of years or do they infest them? The answer to this no-brainer of a question might well lie at the root of the problem being faced by the Jarawas in the Andaman Islands today. The video showing the Jarawa women dancing on the Andaman Trunk Road, apparently for food, is just the latest manifestation of a malaise that is so deep that one might well argue that there is no hope for the Jarawa.

In 1965, the Ministry of Rehabilitation, Government of India, published an important document related to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands: ‘The Report by the Inter Departmental Team on Accelerated Development Programme for A&N Islands.' The contents of the report and their purpose were evident in the title itself — it laid out the roadmap for the development of these islands and set the stage for what was to happen over the decades that have followed.

This little known report of less than a 100 pages in size is remarkable for the insight it provides into the thinking and the mindset of the times. There is what one might call a shocker on every page of this document and here is a just a sampling:

Page 26: …The Jarawas have been uniformly hostile to all outsiders with the result that about half the Middle Andaman is treated as a Jarawa infested (emphasis added) area which is difficult for any outsider to venture… With the present road construction and the colonisation of the forest fringes, friction has become more frequent, and no month passes without a case of attack by the Jarawas.

Page 69: The completion of the Great Andaman Trunk Road would go a long way to help in the extraction of forest produces...

A nation that had just fought its way out of the ignominy of being a colony was well on the way to becoming a coloniser itself. And those that came in the way could only be pests or parasites infesting the forests that had valuable resources locked away from productive use.

It is also pertinent to note here that in 1957 itself, more than a 1000 sq. km of these “Jarawa infested” forests of South and Middle Andaman had already been declared protected as a Jarawa Tribal Reserve under the provisions of the Andaman and Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation (ANPATR) — 1956. The 1965 report was in complete violation, or was a result of complete ignorance of this legal protection to the Jarawa and the forests that they have inhabited for thousands of years.

The seeds that were sown then have bloomed into myriad noxious weeds today and if one knows this history, the latest video that has generated so much heat is not in the bit surprising. Much space in the media, both print and electronic, has been occupied in the last few days by a range of claims and counter claims — about the date of the video, about the police involvement in its making, the role of tour operators and about fixing blame and responsibility. A little known fact that lies at the root of the issue has been all but forgotten — the existence of the Andaman Trunk Road, where this infamous video was shot about three years ago. The Andaman Trunk Road that the 1965 report offered as a good way of extracting resources from the forests of the Jarawa had been ordered shut by a Supreme Court order of 2002.

It's been a decade now and in what can only be called audacious defiance, the administration of this little Union Territory has wilfully violated orders of the highest court of the land. A series of administrators have come and gone but contempt for the Supreme Court remains.

Whenever asked about the order, the administration has tried to hide behind technicalities of interpreting the court order and arguing that the court had never ordered the road shut in the first place. They forget that in March 2003, a few months after the SC orders had been passed, they had themselves filed an affidavit with a plea to “permit the use/movement through the Andaman Trunk Road.” If it was not ordered shut, why the plea to keep it open? A few months later, in July 2003, the Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee reiterated explicitly that the court orders include those for the closure of the ATR in those parts where it runs through the forests of the Jarawa Tribal Reserve. The A&N administration has clearly violated the court's order both in letter and in spirit.

It is a spirit that was evocatively articulated by Dr. R.K. Bhattacharchaya, former Director of the Anthropological Survey of India, in a report he submitted to the Calcutta High Court in 2004. “The ATR”, he said, “is like a public thoroughfare through a private courtyard… In the whole of human history, we find that the dominant group for their own advantage has always won over the minorities, not always paying attention to the issue of ethics. Closure of the ATR would perhaps be the first gesture of goodwill on part of the dominant towards an acutely marginalized group almost on the verge of extinction”.

The video in all its perversity offers us another opportunity, when all others in the past have been brushed aside either due to ignorance, arrogance or then sheer apathy. It's still not too late to make that ‘gesture of goodwill' because otherwise there will be many more such videos down the years and much worse will follow. The lessons from history are very clear on this. And it will hardly be a consolation that a few people will be left saying we told you so.

(The writer is associated with Kalpavriksh, one of the three NGOs whose petition before the Supreme Court resulted in orders for the closure of the Andaman Trunk Road in 2002. He is also the author ofTroubled Islands — Writings on the indigenous peoples and environment of the A&N Islands.)

Thursday, November 8, 2012



Port Blair, Oct 12/--/ The Echo of India’s Sr. Correspondent, Ms Razia Begum has brought laurels to the Islands by being adjudged one of the top eleven journalists in the country by the Press Council of India. She figured among eleven journalists chosen for the first ever 'National Awards for Excellence in Journalism' instituted by the PCI, which was declared on Thursday.
Ms Begum got the Certificate of Excellence with a cash prize of Rs. 25, 000/- and citation for creating awareness on women related issues in the face of adversities and difficulties. The award will be conferred to her by former chief justice of India, M N Venkatachaliah on November 16, 2012 at New Delhi on the occasion of National Press Day.

While, no entry could qualify for the top honour Raja Ram Mohan Roy Award, carrying cash award of Rs. One lakh, Damyanti Datta of ‘India Today’ New Delhi and Priyanka Dubey of ‘Tehelka’, New Delhi have been given Certificate of Excellence for Investigative Journalism in this category. They will received Rs 25,000 each. R Sambhan of ‘Deshabhimani’, Thiruvananthapuram has been chosen for the main award for Rural Journalism, which carries Rs. 50,000 in cash apart from citation.

Rajesh Parshuram Joshte of ‘Lokmat’, Ratnagiri has bagged the top honour ‘Stree Shakti’ Award which carries Rs. 50,000 in cash for reporting on women's issues.The Award for photojournalism has gone to three persons:-- Biplab Banerjee of ‘The Asian Age’, New Delhi, Lattur Rathinam Shankar of ‘The Times of India’, Chennai and Partha Paul of ‘The Indian Express’, Kolkata. They have been selected for the honour for single news picture category for photographs remarkable for mirroring poignant scenes and harsh realities of life. They will each receive a cash award of Rs. 50,000/-. Kamal Kishore, photo-journalist, ‘PTI’, New Delhi bagged Certificate of Excellence for his photograph of farmers at work. The Certificate comes
with a cash prize of Rs. 25, 000/-. 

In photo feature category, Sanjoy Ghosh of the ‘The Telegraph’, Kolkata has been selected for his photo-story on the capital of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, Jaffna reflecting the positivity since the end of Civil War in 2009. This award will fetch him a purse of Rs. 50, 000/. Zishaan Akbar Latif, freelancer, Mumbai has been chosen for Certificate of Excellence carrying cash prize of Rs. 25, 000/- for his photo-story capturing moments from the life of a lonely old person.

The awardees were chosen by a jury comprising of Dr. S.Y. Quraishi, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Mr Harsh Mander, IAS, Social Activist and Writer, Mr Vinod Sharma, Political Editor, Hindustan Times, and Members of the Press Council of India i.e. Mr Neeraj Bajpai, UNI, Mr Sondeep Shankar, Photo-journalist, Mr Shravan Garg, Nai Duniya, Mr K.S.S. Murthy, Malayala Manorama, Mr Rajeev Sabade, UGC, Mr Kalyan Barooah, Assam Tribune, and Mr Arun Kumar, Times of India, Patna. The Press Council of India entrusted with the responsibility of encouraging the media to observe the principle of Freedom with Responsibility while perusing its duties, has instituted these awards to encourage ethical and responsible journalism.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012



 Dear friends, I'm sharing with you here, my first news report published in the leading English Daily of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, The Echo Of India, after joining the Echo Group of Publications as Sub-Editor for the islands' newly launched Hindi Daily - 'Info India'. I would love to respond to your comments on this. Cheers!

Port Blair, 25, August/- The curious cadres of the territorial Congress Committee today had a refresher course on amplification of the organization and gearing up for the upcoming general elections in 2014, at the hands of the veteran AICC General Secretary, Shri Janardan Dwivedi. During a function organized in his honor at Gandhi Bhawan, the state Congress headquarters, the visiting Rajya Sabha MP infused renewed energy in the party ranks, educating them on the grand old party’s rich ideology and time-tested policies that have made it the country’s most-elected party since independence.

Highlighting the party’s age-old tradition of preparing to govern with definite policies and programs based on the strong ideological groundwork, Shri Dwivedi said that it was this invincible practice that has led the party to power, time and again. “Gandhiji had devised the winning strategy of Panchayati Raj Institutions among the rest, well before the independence, which has helped the country’s overall growth manifold, in the post independence scenario”, said the seasoned politician, who has had a noteworthy political career of fifty five years.

A man of letters, Shri Dwivedi accused the BJP of ideological bankruptcy saying that in the absence of definite policies and programs in the current state of affairs, the opposition has been sheepishly resorting to distractions in multifarious forms, in a bid to look reasonable. He said, “They have always tried to thrive on the mistakes of our own workers, who owing to various factors ended up weakening the roots of our own organization. Hence, we need to strengthen our reach at the grassroots level and work towards winning the hearts and confidence of the country’s masses, thereby showing the opposition where they belong.”

Responding to the issues concerning the limited medical seats for the islands’ students and the unholy conduct of the former Congress MP during the last elections resulting in the loss of the party by a mere narrow margin, cited by the PCC General Secretary, Shri Mohammed Ali, the AICC General Secretary said, “Since I am a man of the organization, I cannot comment directly on these issues, but can assure that all the issues will be befittingly addressed, once the PCC President Shri Kuldeep Rai Sharma and a couple of senior members visit Delhi and meet the party high-command.”

Leaving for the mainland tomorrow after the completion of his two-day visit, Shri Dwivedi wrapped up for the day saying, “The resentment resulting out of the previous defeat in the constituency, will prove to be the winning factor for us in the coming elections.”