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Topic: Understanding of Pankaj Sekhsaria’s insights into
environment, indigenous communities and development in the Andaman and Nicobar


Pankaj sekhsaria’s lecture focuses
on the heritage of Andaman and Nicobar islands and do we need change in these

Andaman and Nicobar islands

Every place on earth derives its significance
from its geography. The geography defines what kind of life is supported and
how the ecology is built. The ecology influences most of sociocultural aspects
of living beings.

Geography of Andaman and Nicobar

Andaman and Nicobar islands are
one of the seven union territories of India located at the juncture of Bay of
Bengal and Andaman sea. They are at a distance of 100km to Indonesia and at a
distance of 1200km from Indian cities Calcutta, Chennai and Visakhapatnam. The islands
extend from 6° to 14° North latitudes and from 92° to 94° East longitudes. The
southernmost tip of India, Indira point is located in Nicobar. These islands
host a population of 3,80,581 in an area of 7,950 of which only 10% is
occupied due to lack of fresh water availability. The islands are a group of around
572 islands where Andaman has 325 islands and Nicobar has 247 islands. Unlike Lakshadweep
where the islands are flat and coral, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are extremely
rocky because they are tips of mountain ranges from Burma to Nicobar. The
islands host the only volcano of India in Barren Island which is active and
erupted in 2017.

Ecology of Andaman and Nicobar

The islands have mangroves which
are on the sea coast. As we go into the land we get into littoral forests which
are followed by tropical forests.

Most of the species are formed
near islands because of availability of more resources. The islands host a vast
number of rare species. About 200 animal species and many reptile species are
found only on and around Andaman and Nicobar islands.

Some of the rare species which
can be seen in Andaman and Nicobar only are Mud skipper, a type of crab which can
live in both water and on land. Giant robber crab, which is of size of two
human heads and can break a steel vessel. Nicobari magapode or thermometer bird
which hatches the eggs using grass and maintaining optimum temperature for the
eggs using its beak which works as thermometer.

Sociocultural practices

The animals and humans of Andaman
and Nicobar islands are believed to have of 40,000 years of sociocultural
heritage. Archaeologists have proved the existence of life on Andaman and Nicobar
islands since 3000 years. The human life on the islands is also expected to
have the same history of 40000 years. The human life on the islands can be seen
in tribes. The tribes are Sentinelese, the most isolated people around the
world, onge, great andamanese and Jarawas. These tribes are not willing to
interact or make friends with the other part of the world. The sentinelese
violently reject contact and their language is also different from other
andamans. The culture and living styles of these people are unknown as these
people are not willing to interact with rest of the world. Jarawas are around
400 people and sentinelese are around 400 people but people were not able to
interact with these communities because of the tribe’s less resistance to diseases
which are spread from the other human beings. Although few attempts to capture
these people were successful, no improvement was seen as far as information about
their living style is concerned because the captives were dead in few days due
to lack of resistance to diseases from human epidemics. These tribes live on
hunting and fishing using spears and bow and arrows. There is no evidence of
farming by these people.


Issues faced by Andaman and
Nicobar islands

Andaman and Nicobar became part
of modern India in 1956, and the government of India had to make development
plans for the islands. As with any other location, we need the basic
transportation to facilitate trade. Also we can see roads as the sign of development.
The Jarawas were hostile to outsiders in violent way. “There was no month
without a case of jarawas attacking. This led the government to state the
middle Andaman as Jarawa infested in and no outsider is able to venture the
islands and to stop this, the Andaman Trunk road will help colonializing the
area and extract the resourses”, a report from government of India in 1965
stated. This road was used to exploit the resources and disturb the ecology in
the Andaman islands.

The construction of this trunk
road have begun and the road have been laid successfully. This road was able to
generate revenues for the government by over exploiting the resources of the forest
like timber and other forest products. This trunk road was actually passing
through the Jarawa community and as mentioned earlier, these communities were
not immune to diseases from mainland people. Government of India did not take
this factor into consideration and have constructed the road. Had the
government took this factor into consideration, the community would be living
in a better environment today.  

In the meanwhile, the government
offered people of mainland India and refugees of east Pakistan a land of 10
acres for farming and an acre to live because of lack of free land in mainland
India and availability of considered to be free land in Andaman and Nicobar
Islands. These lands were not actually free because there were forests in those
lands of which some are rare species. These people were given large amounts of lands
and were expected to cut off forests which were living there since ages. These
people were expected to cut off the forests and generate income for government
and gross domestic product. This act of government of India made the Andaman’s ecology
suffer for the economic and political benefit of India.

The major disturbance in ecology
is already observable on the islands. The deforestation of mangroves led to the
waves getting into the islands because of lack of support resistance from the mangroves
because of refugees or the industries exploiting the timber and other woods and
resources. This demanded the residents to construct the wall against tides to
resist the waves. This needs sand from the beach reducing the height of beach
in turn disturbing the ecology. This is in a way making another mistake to forego
the mistakes of the past. This leads to cutting off the forests of Andaman and
Nicobar islands completely and then using the islands solely for trading or
industrial purposes. This can be done if we do not care about disturbing the
ecologies and making the rare species of the planet extinct.

The other mode in which government
of India tried developing the islands was tourism. The location was publicized
on the Jarawas, a tribe which is near extinction by the tourism companies. These
tourists were offered a visit to jarawa community one of the most endangered
tribes in the world and the people who were using bow and arrow and spears to
hunt these days. Interacting with a person in the tribe is as easy as taking a
cab and going through the grand trunk road. This is not the way in which the
rarest tribes who has to be conserved need to be treated. The tribes were as if
they were animals in a zoo, the people from mainland offering food and other
gifts to those people to have a look at those people who are uneducated,
uncivilized and naked. This is one part of the story and the other being if the
community is infected with some disease from the people of mainland, and the
disease spreads the lack of resistance to the disease will lead the whole
community to be lost and we will not be able to see any Jarawa left on the

This along with deforestation across
the islands led the social activists move to Supreme Court of India for the closure
of Grand Trunk Road in 2002. The Supreme Court ordered the government the
closure of grand trunk road for the reasons like to stop logging and protect
jarawas. Even after the orders of Supreme Court to stop the use of grand trunk
road in 2002, the road is still in use for the purposes of logging and tourism
with the support of police and administration of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
This can be seen as the inefficiency of government to implement orders of
Supreme Court. This inefficiency led us to see the Jarawa women dancing on the
Andaman Trunk Road apparently for food. This is more touching when we see a cop
supporting the act instead of protecting the tribes. This is because we took
off their food (animals) by deforestation and now we are giving them food by
making them dance for us or do something for us. These developments in the
Jarawa community is a clear example of what can happen if we disturb an
existing ecology.

We can also note that parts of
south and middle Andaman forests were declared as Jarawa Tribal reserve under
the provisions of the Andaman and Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes
Regulation (ANPATR) in 1956 (Sekhsaria, 2012). The construction of Grand Trunk
Road is actually a violation of the 1956 act to protect the tribes because of
multiple reasons mentioned above.  

In 2009, former president of
India, APJ Abdul Kalam have planned a 250 MW nuclear power plant to develop the
island. This cannot be used to develop the island but to destroy the world
because these islands are part of ring of fire which is considered as the area
on planet with most movements in tectonic plates. These areas are more earthquake
prone and tsunami prone compared to any other location on planet because of disturbances
in tectonic plates. If the nuclear power plant is attacked by an earthquake or
by a tsunami, this will affect many species in around Andaman and Nicobar
islands leading to extinction of many of the rare species and few tribe
communities and a great amount of natural resources. As an example, the 2004 tsunami
have made the parts of Andaman to elevate by 4 feet and parts of Nicobar to depress
by 15 ft. and have made the islands into many small pieces by depressing the
height and exposing the peaks of mountains. We cannot survive safely with a
nuclear power plant on a land like Andaman and Nicobar.

In 2017, the ballistic missile
test was conducted in Andaman and Nicobar Islands which is very much insensible,
because the islands are host for many flora and fauna which will be affected by
the missile test. These tests need to be performed in a place where no life is
seen and conducting this test in a desert is apt. The test in the islands
affects plants, animal life on the island and plants and animals in the sea around.
This can be seen as foregoing great and valuable ecology of Andaman for the
political benefit of India.

Effects of ecological change

The tractor kachwa is a species
of turtles which lives in the sea near Andaman and Nicobar islands. The female
kachwa comes out of the sea only to lay their eggs. These lay eggs in a pit by
digging it. The temperature of the surroundings decide whether the new born is
going to be a male or female. Due to global warming, the temperatures have been
increased by around 1o and most of these new born are female. If
this continues, the species is going to extinct and these cannot be brought
back. The other side is that due to the tsunami of 2004, the areas of Nicobar
are shrunk by 15 ft. making the beaches shrink into the sea and tropical
forests as new beaches. These female kachwas coming out of sea to lay eggs will
now have to dig in tropical forest which is much harder than in mangroves or
beaches. These two factors are leading to difficulties in living of the poor
animal and may probably lead to extinction.



The ecology is one of the gifts
of the nature and it took millions of years to develop an ecology which is
sustainable. This can be changed in a way that is comfortable for us but we
need to make the change gradual giving time to every living being to adapt to
new ecology for the ecology to be sustainable. The acts like ballistic missile
test may not affect the ecology permanently from our perspective, but they do
affect the lives of smaller animals and plants which are very much part of ecology.

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