Sunday, August 21, 2016

Alcoholism in Islands: Apocalypse Now!

Alcoholism in Islands:
Apocalypse Now!

The per capita consumption of liquor in our Islands is 13 litres far ahead of the national average of 4.3 litres. The data on alcoholism and extent of liquor sales in the Islands indicate the abyss, that we are heading to. Illicit brew, hooch tragedies or tourism aren't enough justification against total prohibition anymore.

By Zubair Ahmed

The earthquake of 2004, which shook the ground beneath our feet and the killer waves of tsunami which took away many lives and razed down properties worth crores still remains etched in our memory, bringing back nightmares of the scary days and nights that followed. We mourn the death and loss. But, we are conveniently caught unaware about a more disturbing scourge shaking the very foundation of our existence. Alcoholism is devouring the Islands and the Islanders like never before. This plague does not discriminate between rich or poor, villager or townsman, young or old, rural or urban, tourist or Islander.

Last year on Teachers Day, a group of senior students of a rural school in South Andaman came up with a shocking idea. Following the footsteps of a few teachers, they came to classes to teach in fully inebriated state. They were drunk! A bunch of students from another school were found near a waterfall, again drunk!

Undoubtedly, alcoholism is stunting the overall social and economical growth making the majority of the miniscule population of the Islands addicted to this scourge. The fervor shown by those at the helm to make the bottomline of the corporation - entrusted to sell this poison - look impressive by promoting sale of liquor indicates the utter disregard or apathy towards the well being of the people. No wellness centre or seminar can compensate the enduring loss to human resource in the Islands. When the authorities were seen making calls to the bar owners demanding increase in sales pitch shows their lack of concern and skewed priorities.

The extent of damage is beyond imagination. The devil lies in the details. The Island population of 4 lakhs and a couple of lakh tourists consumed not less than 52 lakh litres of liquor in 2015-16, an increase of 2.21 lakh litres from 2014-15. ANIIDCO, the sole distributor of IMFL sold liquor for Rs 150 crores last year and made a profit of Rs 16.36 crores from liquor sales alone out of Rs 19.03 crores net profit of the Corporation. All other heads including POL, milk, steel, air ticketing and tourism activities combined made a profit of just Rs 2.66 crores.

Out of total sale of 52 lakh litres, 37.11 lakh litres of hard liquor, 15.17 lakh litres of beer and 0.39 lakh litres of Ready to Drink (RTD) alcoholic beverages were sold in 2015-16.

While South Andaman consumed 35.58 lakh litres, other Islands from Campbell Bay to N&M Andaman consumed 17.10 lakh litres.

What is astonishing is the fact that Little Andaman with no proper boat connectivity and a population less than 20,000, with no mentionable tourism footfall consumed liquor to the tune of Rs 7.17 crores while Havelock, the face of brand Andaman, the tourism paradise, registered liquor sale of Rs 7.18 crores. There are 5 bars in Little Andaman and 12 bars in Havelock.

Port Blair and surrounding areas of South Andaman with around 125 bars registered a sale of Rs 102 crores, 68% of the total liquor sales in the territory.

In outstation sales, Rangat spent Rs 12.83 crores consuming 4.58 lakh litres and Diglipur with a population of 43183 consumed 4.43 lakh litres spending Rs 12.42 crores in the year 2015-16. Mayabunder residents spent Rs 80.13 lakh consuming 2.85 lakh litres of liquor. Diglipur has 19 bars and one ANIIDCO wine shop. In Mayabunder and Rangat, there are 6 bars and one wine shop each.

Ready to Drink (RTD) alcoholic beverages have alarmingly made inroads with its consumption rising every year. From 25,034 ltrs in 2013-14 to 39,332 litres in 2015-16, there has been a steep increase of 14298 litres in two years. A lot of youngsters, especially those trying out alcoholic beverages for the first time opt for Ready-to-Drink bottled beverages with alcoholic content. This is how initiation is happening among the young generation especially school going children, eventually shifting to hard liquor. RTD seems to be  socially acceptable, and preferred by youngsters and women.

According to NSSO, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Arunachal Pradesh, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Daman & Diu, Sikkim, and, Puducherry are clearly among the highest consumers of alcohol and spirits in the country.

On the WHO’s ‘Years of Life Lost’ (YLL) scale  – a measure of premature mortality – alcohol attributed years of life lost puts India on a precarious 4 on a scale of 1 to 5.

While the national per capita consumption of liquor is 4.3 litres, our Islands is far ahead with 13 litres.

Its widely accepted and acknowledged that suicide deaths are on a steep rise in our Islands. The Islands figure among the top three states in suicide rates. Alcoholism overtly or covertly plays a decisive role in such deaths. In the last five years, 701 suicides were reported in the Islands. Last year, 158 cases of suicides were reported. 38% of suicide cases are either alcoholism-related or broken families or depression.

Humane Touch, a voluntary organization actively working against alcoholism in South Andaman recently conducted a survey in two wards of Bindraban panchayat. The data from the two wards of the obscure Panchayat was quite shocking. Out of 100 families surveyed, 72 families were affected by alcoholism. Out of 195 males, 111 consumed alcohol. In the last ten years, seven suicides and 15 alcohol related deaths were reported from these two wards. Out of 111 males who consumes liquor, there were 23 addicts. And, out of 100 families, 34 families are under serious financial duress due to alcoholism of the head of the family or the sole bread earner.

Peddlers buy bottles from ANIIDCO run wine shops and peddle it in villages. Police also find it difficult to check this menace as they carry bills. If one checks the number of cases registered at each police station, the highest number would be cases related with excise violations. But, do the data have any bearing on our policing? They keep filing cases against violators and still violation keeps going on. The graph never shows a declining trend in cases related with excise. Out of 3800 cases registered in 2014, 1933 cases were related to Excise Regulation, more than 50% cases!

Whenever, the issue of complete prohibition is raised, the scarecrow named hooch tragedies are cited extensively. As per data available, since independence till 2016, hardly 2000 people died in hooch tragedies in the country, whereas, our country registers more than 3 million deaths attributed to alcohol consumption alone every year as per data released by NSSO. Alcoholism is one of the leading causes of liver cirrhosis and failure. About 10 percent of strokes, tuberculosis, hypertension, and epilepsy are caused by excess alcohol consumption.

It's a farce that the Islands need liquor to sustain tourism. The figures from Rangat, Diglipur and Hutbay says a different story. The amount of alcohol consumed by the Islanders is shocking, which will have devastating long term effect on the socio-economic condition and health of the Islanders. If the trend is not arrested by bringing in total prohibition, all the efforts by the Administration and Govt of India to develop the territory would make no sense. Comparatively, the revenue from liquor makes no major financial contribution to the exchequer, but the social cost is very high with people spending more on health. Every rupee the government gets off the bottle, it loses more than Rs. 2 in terms of healthcare expenses and lost productivity. Road accidents are also on the rise with many young lives wasted due to drunken driving.  

Had the hard earned money of Rs 100 crores spent on liquor by Islanders spent on families, it would have brought positive changes in their living standards.

Its high time the Administration wakes up and takes drastic steps to check this menace or the future of the Islands with an unhealthy and unproductive population looks very bleak. The logic that prohibition doesn't work is a lame excuse to continue with the status quo. For an healthy and active Andamans, prohibition seems to be the only way out, after all, prohibition is also a directive principle in our Constitution under Article 47.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

When Winter Comes Calling!

When Winter Comes Calling!
Au Revoir Lt Gen A K Singh, Welcome Prof. Jagdish Mukhi

By Zubair Ahmed

Setting aside all differences and prejudices, like a seasoned politician, who accepts defeat with dignity and victory with humility, its time for a balanced and impartial look at the emerging situation in the Islands after the recent change in guard.

Unlike Delhi with frequent skirmishes between the elected government and nominated Lt Governor, Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a different ball game altogether. With the Lt Governor as the Administrator and head of the territory with all powers vested upon him, the Member of Parliament is an ornamental post! And to be precise, the elected MP is like the frustrated caged fox squirrel scuttling around appearing quite busy, but flicking its tail furiously when it can't get at the nuts.

After Vakkom Purushotham, the Islands have not seen any seasoned politician as its Administrator.  For a long span of time, the Islands were governed by retired army generals as Administrators. Some of them were good at administration, but failed miserably in governance. Many of them whiled away their time. But things did change with Lt Gen A K Singh. He did prove to be a good administrator with an ear to the ground. In a short span of time, many projects which had been lying dormant were revived. Many projects fructified especially in the field of education, health and aviation. These were not without opposition or its share of criticism. And some of the achievements as well as criticism were indeed blown out of proportion too.  The criticism was not always out of place. A major share of it he inherited from Mr Anand Prakash, the Chief Secretary, who followed the ancient 'divide and rule' policy.

Despite all these, Lt Gen A K Singh doggedly pursued the projects at all levels and could materialize it. The Commissariat Nallah Dam, Multipurpose Indoor Stadium, Medical College, ANCOL, Chartered Flights and even the Flea Market, there are many contributions, one can keep counting in the years to come.

Meanwhile, he also drew flak for taking sides, showing favours and ignoring genuine voices. Shifting the project ANCOL from rural South Andaman to Port Blair despite objections and displeasure of many stakeholders was just one of them. While his focus on improving air connectivity is widely appreciated, neglect of the shipping sector with majority of vessels remaining non-operational during the last three years effecting services to Southern group and Middle and North Andaman cannot be ignored. Despite various long term and short term plans drawn after an extensive audit of transmission and distribution of power, the situation has worsened with frequent power cuts and interruptions.

On the social front, awareness about many social issues like alcoholism and suicide did get attention through seminars and setting up of committees, but nothing percolated to the grass-root level bringing any changes on the ground with sale of alcohol and suicide increasing manifold. He did try to bring some positive changes, but the system could not cope up with his pace.

Reconciliation had been always his forte. The bickering of Bishnu Pada Ray at various platforms including Lok Sabha could not get on the nerves of A K Singh, who maintained a dignified image in the public. Bishnu held Adalats where he sought the support of people to raise voice against the Lieutenant Governor to get him out mid-way. Sense prevailed and the Home Ministry took cognizance only after his stipulated term was over. AK Singh too invoked all gods in every heaven for furthering his stay is not a secret. The subtle turnaround by AK Singh from UPA to NDA only made things difficult for the MP. On the contrary, Vishal Jolly played the role of a ruling party.

In the last eight years, Islands witnessed two scenarios with Bishnu Pada Ray as the constant and three LGs as variables.  First, it was UPA at the centre with UPA appointed LGs with BJP MP, Second, NDA at Centre with UPA appointed LG and BJP MP in the Islands. In both cases, Bishnu, the constant had been at loggerheads, either with Centre or with the LG. And, he broadly blamed the scenarios for his helplessness.

And now Bishnu cannot ask for more, and blame anybody. Everything seems to be falling into place with the third scenario - NDA at the Centre and both MP and LG from BJP! Its a rare combination and will be interesting to watch how this arrangement functions, rather how Bishnu Pada Ray gets to perform as a Member of Parliament without pointing fingers. Till now, despite increased visibility in the House and raising vital issues, the output has been negligible. With upsetting the whole administrative setup, he could not achieve anything even in the village he adopted under the Pradhan Mantri Adarsh Gram Yojana. He had the LG to blame for all the failures. Was LG the impediment? Or the system itself where the role of MP is limited? With change in guard and the crescendo of the accompanied euphoria reaching higher and higher, it might look promising only if our MP could get his election manifesto translated into action.  Many lost promises need to be reminded. Retention of tsunami affected land by the farmers is just one among them.

With a seasoned politician with ample experience as MLA and minister especially from Delhi,  Prof Jagdish Mukhi, the appointed LG, realizes the constraints of an UT, and its right time for BJP as a party to push for a democratic setup for the Islands. With ample exposure of the way of bureaucrats especially DANICs and AGMUT cadre, he knows the dynamics of the system very well. But, the priorities of an Island territory needs to be spelled out very well. An Island territory cannot forget its lifeline - the shipping sector.

Alcoholism is one social scourge which needs immediate attention. A territory with less than half a million population consumed more than 5 million litres of liquor last year. There is a need to push for complete ban on liquor and arrest the downward trend in the socio-economic condition of the Islanders. The ecology and tribes give the Islands its distinctive identity, which cannot be overlooked in all  developmental initiatives.

The good things that happened under the leadership of A K Singh needs to continue. The institutions and initiatives have to be sustained. While setting new goals, old projects like undersea OFC cable shouldn't be put to backburner. Moreover, maturity needs to prevail with people and institutions not targeted for their allegiances and affiliations.

When the King changes, the King's Guard and the King's Hand at King's Landing shouldn't turn whisperers.

While appreciating the good work, recourses and reorientations wherever required needs to be done.

As an Islander, we must realize our fate that we are going to confront such situations every three years. Strangeness breeds alienation and skepticism.  Hope is the only constant that can take us through forward. Au revoir Lt Gen A K Singh! Lets welcome our new Administrator Prof Jagdish Mukhi.

Monday, July 18, 2016

ANIIMS: Why Robinhood Plan Boomeranged?

ANIIMS: Expulsion of Tribal Students
Why Robinhood Plan Boomeranged?

By Zubair Ahmed

Indeed, all actions are based on intentions. And, the intentions might had been noble in admitting tribal students from Nicobars in the newly opened Medical College, by lowering the criteria set by Medical Council of India (MCI). But, the plan has boomeranged with the expulsion of a few ST students and the backlash from the Nicobari community.

The students belonging to Nicobari tribe scoring less than 40% marks in ANIIMS conducted entrance exam, ANIPMT were expelled after seven months on the direction of MCI, which has stirred up a hornet's nest with the Tribal Councils of Nicobar district giving a clarion call for reinstatement of the students or face boycott. The Councils had appealed Nicobari students to boycott schools from 18 July if their demand was not met. And, following the decision, around 700 tribal students did not attend schools yesterday.

After an emergency meeting called at the District headquarters, the Tribal Council has conceded to the appeal of the authorities to send their children to school on the condition that the issue will be resolved in their favour by this weekend.

Medical College was one masterstroke from the Administrator Lt Gen A K Singh and was termed a game-changer. The most ambitious project of the Administration, and it went all the way to realize it. From day one, it was a challenge for the Administrator with the elected representative and many others creating one hurdle after another. But, the college became a reality, against all odds. He knew that it wasn't possible if he went the civil administration way and on war-footing got a set of defence personnel as consultant, director and even the dean, which too created heartburn.

Without its own building, the college started functioning at Ayush complex with additions and modifications. A few other buildings around it were also occupied and tweaked to fulfill the MCI guidelines. Many more buildings - Teal House, Hornbill Nest, Dugong Guest House - were occupied, and now the Medical College in its second year is spread throughout the city. In short, the Administrator could silence all his critics by making the Medical College a reality.

The weather was conducive and the sail smooth for the medical college, but with the departure of a few trusted officials of the Administrator including Anand Prakash, the Chief Secretary, there has been a turnaround and the activities of the Medical College has come under the scanner. The autonomy enjoyed by the Dean in all matters - administrative as well as academics is also learnt to have been curtailed. It is alleged that procedures and norms were flouted from the beginning with Medical Council of India too looking the other way.

Medical College had become a prestige issue for a group of officers led by the Chief Secretary who enjoyed free-hand, and many others were sidelined, who would question overriding procedures and norms. In fact, they had no say. Similar approach of his predecessors had met the same fate during his time. What goes around, comes around!

Medical College is a boon for the Islands and a need, and its sustainability should go beyond personal ego and prestige. The way the project was arbitrarily executed had raised many eyebrows. The frequent skirmish between the specialists and the tussle over the control of the lone referral hospital had created bad blood among many. Instead of resolving the bitterness, things were swept under the carpet. Many officials who were not in the good books of Mr Anand Prakash had to face the music.

The intention to admit tribal students reducing the minimum marks criteria might have been very noble and an example of inclusiveness. But, the decision had also created bitterness among many as they felt the decision to be arbitrary and against the norms. The predicament of the expelled students and the call for boycott by the community against the expulsion, are issues with serious repercussions. Whether the Administration as a single entity would support the cause of the students or would stick to the norms set by MCI? The signs of alienation of a community from the mainstream seems to be the larger issue at hand. Moreover, bridging the various mini Islands inside the bureaucracy without fear and favour would define the fate of many ongoing developmental projects and sustainability of the newly established institutions.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Elusive Bridge!

The Elusive Bridge!

By Zubair Ahmed

Boat journeys often bring out interesting moments and conversations. Though, it might be a little different if you are traveling between Chatham and Bambooflat with every conversation beginning or ending up discussing the elusive bridge.

Today, afternoon with the sun beaming its hottest rays, the little space with shade on the boat was brimming with passengers trying to evade the scorching sun. There was shade, but no escape from the humidity. Agitated with the delay in departure, a lady was seen shouting why the boat is not leaving. A guy answered the lady and also added a line about the relief the bridge would bring in.

This triggered a journey-long discussion between two friends, and I was a mute spectator to the conversation that started with a note on the bridge and finally ended up questioning our existence itself!

One of the guys said that the bridge is not economically viable, and raising his eyebrows enquired about the population of the Islands and the feasibility for such an expensive bridge. This hit the other guy so hard that he reeled out a list of questions that numbed my senses for a while.

"Do you think, the boat that you are traveling is economically viable? You pay eight rupees and the government spend more than a hundred rupees on your each trip."

"Do you think whether the water that you get through pipeline is any less expensive than the bottled water available in the market? Add the expenditure of the water section of APWD plus the hundreds of tankers carrying it from east to west and north to south, and finally landing up in your glass!"

"Do you know, when you go home, and switch on the fan, and the tariff that you pay for one unit of electricity that it consumes is nowhere economically viable."

"For that matter, you know your existence itself is not economically viable in the Islands!"

"Your every breath is maintained and sustained by Plan and Non-Plan fund from the Centre. The fresh oxygen that you inhale is no more free as all of us think. Do you have any idea about the expenditure incurred by the forest department in 'conserving' the forests?

"And, how does it matter, if the bridge is not economically viable?" he asked emphatically.

"You should also know that whether the elected representative, the state president of ruling party or for that matter, the Lieutenant Governor can't be very assertive about their demands, as what they have in their hands are nothing but begging bowls, of course, of different sizes and shapes."

So whom should you blame? he asked thumping on the fuel tank of his bike.

Yes, if you have to blame, you should blame Capt. Archibald Blair who surveyed the Islands in 1789 for finding the place suitable for penal settlement.

Yes, the blame should be on J P Walker, who landed on Chatham Island with the first batch of 200 mutineers on 10th March 1858! Had he not landed on Chatham, there would not have been a demand for bridge between Chatham and Bambooflat.

Yes, the blame should be on those British guys, who thought Chatham suitable for a saw mill, and the ones who were culpable for connecting the Island with Haddo by a causeway, which further raised hopes of the people living on the other side to have bridge connectivity.

How can you not blame the Andamanese tribe, who lost the Battle of Aberdeen fighting the Colonial forces? Had they won, there would not have the British and the settlement, and the demand for a bridge too!

How can you not blame Colonel Michael Lloyd Ferrar, Chief Commissioner, a man who lent his name to the largest Tehsil, Ferrargunj, in South Andaman? Had he not seen a vision for development of the place, there would not have so many villages contently living amidst their agricultural land and homesteads dreaming of a bridge between Bambooflat and Chatham.

Jarawas cannot be spared from the blame! Had they strongly resisted the Settlers and not remained content being pushed to one corner of the Island, the dream of Col Ferrar would have failed and there would not be a demand for a bridge later!

There was some hope still left till the Japanese occupied the Islands. The Allied Force pilots who bombed Chatham Island, failed to sink the Island keeping the hope for a bridge still alive!

After Independence, blame lies primarily on the Defence forces, who without take into account for a bridge built their harbour as well as the many ships of different sizes and heights!

How can you not blame the aircraft carriers to be built or inducted in the future? Though INS Vikrant did not come inside the harbour in 1980s, it raised the hope for INS Virat to enter the harbour later!  Blame is due for the hope of the aircraft carriers entering the harbour for the hopelessness of the bridge between Chatham and Bambooflat!

You should also blame the nuclear powered submarine, which once entered the harbour. Had it anchored on the mouth of Port Blair harbour near Ross Island, tunnel could have been a possibility.

When economics, history and geography have to be blamed for the elusive bridge, how can someone point finger at the ruling dispensation in the UT or at Centre?

Maybe, they are aware about the predicament and also ashamed of their position. That's why the Administration is not coming out with any conclusive answer to the queries raised by the public about the status of the bridge, promised by Gadkariji.

When the boat reached Bambooflat, the guy who questioned the viability of the bridge suddenly changed topic and emphatically said,

"Modi is very powerful. He will surely send Sonia and Rahul behind bars in the AgustaWestland chopper deal."

Indeed a respite in the otherwise hot weather!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Andaman and Nicobar Islands: Strategic Springboard for India

Andaman and Nicobar Islands:
Strategic Springboard for India

By Dhan Singh*, BTech, MBA
IIT Kanpur, India

It is imperative that our country has to craft its foreign policy in such a way so as to meet the numerous challenges of the twenty-first century. The challenges that the foreign policy has to contend with include inter-continental terrorism, piracy over high seas, global gun-running syndicates and the looming threat to disruption of sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) and illegal exploitation of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) critical for the growth of the economy of our country.

Strategic location of Andaman and Nicobar Islands:

India is strategically located in the centre of Asia and at the head of the Indian Ocean. By virtue of its geographical location, Andaman and Nicobar Islands enjoys a strategic location as the far south-easternmost part of India. Landfall Islands, the northern most island in the Andaman archipelago, is just about 20 km from Myanmar's Coco Island (which is reportedly under Chinese control) while Indira Point at the tip of Great Nicobar, the southernmost island in the Nicobar archipelago, lies about 80 km from the tip of Sumatra in Indonesia. Thus, Andaman and Nicobar Islands is located at the mouth of the Straits of Malacca which is a significant trade route through which majority of trade occurs amongst various countries over the seas.

Evolution of the Defence Architecture in Andaman and Nicobar Islands:

The evolution of Andaman and Nicobar Islands from being simply an outpost in the Indian defence architecture to becoming an important strategic base has indeed been a long-drawn one. The Indian Union set up the Indian naval base named INS Jarawa in late 1960s which had primarily amphibious ships and to protect the Islands post the Sino-Indian war of 1962.The INS Jarawa was renamed Fortress Andaman (FORTRAN) in 1981.The naval air component in the form of INS Utkrosh was established near INS Jarawa in 1985.
The paradigm shift in the defence architecture of Andaman and Nicobar Islands occurred when the first integrated theatre command of the Indian Armed Forces was set up in the form of ‘Andaman Nicobar Command (ANC)’ at Port Blair in 2001.But with the limited joint capability among the three armed forces, ANC, hitherto, has had mixed results. ANC definitely is a step forward for the eventual reorganization of armed forces of our country into integrated theatre commands which will be better suited to deal with the security challenges decisively in a holistic manner.
With the nature of warfare changing from being manpower-intensive (as during the World war periods and some decades thereafter) to more technology-centric, there is an urgent need to institute a Force Structure Commission with an aim to improve the tooth-to-tail ratio resulting in an agile and responsive defence force.

Role of Andaman and Nicobar Islands in furthering the national interests of India:

Since the foreign policy is guided by the national interests of India,viz.,securing a peaceful and an amicable external environment to ensure the sustainable development of India so as to pull out the remaining millions from poverty and to ensure equitable development inside the country. In order to achieve a conducive external and internal environment for our country’s inclusive development, securing national borders is as significant as securing the exclusive economic zones which are repository of natural resources of various kinds and protecting the SLOCs from disruption in coordination with other countries both in immediate and extended neighborhood of India.

About 90% of India’s trade and oil imports are moved by sea lanes of communications (SLOCs), the prominent one passing through the Straits of Malacca to which Andaman & Nicobar Islands have geographical proximity. As our country’s economy becomes more globally integrated, it would become more dependent on the oceans.

The re-emergence of China has led to renewed interest in the Indian Ocean. Indian Ocean has acquired a great salience not only because of the various trade routes that pass through it but also as a bridge to connect the various countries located in the Indian Ocean region through initiatives like ‘Project Mausam’ and with the help of multilateral organizations like Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). ‘Project Mausam’ (being coordinated by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts IGNCA, New Delhi) aims to revive the historic maritime, cultural and economic ties with the 39 Indian Ocean countries including China and Pakistan.

In order to secure the maritime interest of India, Andaman and Nicobar Islands acquires a significant place because it hosts the first tri-services command of our country (Andaman Nicobar Command) which aims to provide a holistic security solution to strengthen the strategic position of India in the vicinity of the all-important Malacca Strait.

Evaluation of the Security & Strategic Policy in relation to Andaman & Nicobar Islands:

In present times, jointness amongst the various arms of the defence forces is the essential component of the military doctrine of any country. This is evident in the recent reduction in the size of the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China which has gone in for organizational restructuring of its armed forces in favor of increasing jointness and has set up Theatre Commands (to have a holistic view of the war zone) in the place of separate commands of army, navy or air force.

Recently in March 2016, Indian Navy, Army and the Indian Air Force participated in joint war game named 'Jal Prahar' in Andaman & Nicobar Islands under the aegis of Andaman Nicobar Command (ANC) where joint exercises in amphibious battlefield scenarios was practiced. Though such joint exercises which are being carried out at tactical levels are a step forward but for a leap forward in enhancing jointness amongst the three wings of Armed Forces and also the Coast Guard will happen only when there is jointness at strategic level amongst the various armed forces of our country.

The present obsession of the security establishment of our country with Pakistan has to give way to a more balanced approach to future security scenarios in which China should be given due importance in the long-term since China, the economic power that it is already, is also asserting itself militarily both in the South China sea and also in the various islands of the Indian ocean region. Andaman & Nicobar Islands becomes important because the maritime approach to South China Sea is through the Malacca Strait. Apart from being the storehouse of natural resources underneath the South China Sea, South China Sea is also important because more than 50% of India’s trade comes through the South China Sea if crude oil is excluded. Indian oil exploration companies like ONGC-Videsh has won contracts to prospect petroleum in blocks in South China Sea under the territorial jurisdiction of Vietnam. So, it would be prudent for our country to conduct joint exercises with Vietnam in the region of South China Sea (under the territorial jurisdiction of Vietnam) to protect mutual interests. India has rightly decided to stay put in Vietnam despite Chinese protests because ONGC-Videsh is prospecting in territories under the sovereign control of Vietnam from whom ONGC-Videsh had won a competitive contract. ONGC-Videsh should remain in Vietnam despite poor prospects of oil in order to maintain India's strategic interest in the South China Sea.

With the ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy of United States coming into play, US has deployed a large number of its forces and military equipment in the Asia-Pacific region which includes the Indian Ocean region. Moreover, in April 2016 US and India have concluded the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) vide which respective militaries of each country can access each other’s military bases for repair and refueling purposes. LEMOA is a step forward because it has formalized the existing arrangements of sharing of repair and refueling facilities between the militaries of US and India that had been existing earlier also. For China, it is important that India does not become the ally of US. Thus, India can use its strategic closeness to US as a bargaining chip with China to secure its national interests including an amicable settlement of the boundary dispute.

Since the trade routes converge in the Northern Indian Ocean, therefore China is primarily interested in the Northern Indian Ocean. The Andaman and Nicobar Archipelago located in the Northern Indian Ocean could thus be used as a ‘metal chain’ to block Chinese access to the Straits of Malacca, as argued by naval analyst Zhang Ming. While China is embarking on the grand plans of infrastructure development across the Indian Ocean region through its One Belt One Road (OBOR) that comprises the establishment of Maritime Silk Route through which it proposes to connect the various Indian ocean countries by developing ports (like Gwadar port in Pakistan, Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, Marau which is close to Male in Maldives), our country while being a part of the OBOR also needs to explore other strategic alternatives as it is attempting through Project Mausam by leveraging its core competencies, most notably its soft power and its age-old civilizational ties with the Indian Ocean countries. The Indian diaspora in Indian Ocean Region countries can be an added advantage that India enjoys unlike China, which is another important player in the Indian Ocean.

The way forward:

The stated policy of India is to become a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands by virtue of its strategic location is well suited to become the springboard using which our country and its military, most notably its navy (which is steadily developing its blue water capability) can project power deep inside the Indian Ocean and protect India’s national interests which extends from the strait of Hormuz in West Asia to the strait of Malacca in the East. To realize India’s full strategic potential in the Indian Ocean, Indian Navy needs to fast track its efforts in building maritime capacity especially in island states that occupy critical locations in the Indian Ocean and in these efforts Andaman and Nicobar Islands can become the winning ace.

The writer from the Islands is a Research Scholar in Management Department in IIT Kanpur. He also had a seven year stint as a Commissioned Officer in Defence.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Power to the Native

Power to the Native


The Jarawas in the Andamans need to be protected as well as empowered to choose their own modernity. A new, more imaginative policy framework might help.


By Zubair Ahmed


There are two thousands square miles of country teeming with food for the Jarawas and unoccupied by any human being. Why must they keep coming over to our hundred square mile settlements and keep killing our wretched convicts?
Lt. Col. Michael Lloyd Ferrar
Chief Commissioner (1921-33) Andaman Islands, writing in March 1926

The advent of the British colonialists in 1858 to set up a penal settlement in Andaman Islands posed a challenge to the tribals inhabiting the islands. The Jarawas resisted attempts to colonise their land and lives. Even after Independence, Jarawas were seen as a threat to settlers. To keep the tribe at bay, bush police forces were engaged until the Jarawas themselves realised their vulnerability and shed hostilities, and came out of the forests in 1998. The hand of friendship they extended towards the outside world has proved to be disastrous for the tribe, who lived in the forest for the last 50,000 years or more and now number around 400.

A policy of “isolation with minimal intervention” was brought into force in 2004, an important contemporary watershed. With the passage of time, and an ineffective implementation of the policy, the Jarawas remain caught between two worlds — and secure in neither.

While the murder of a Jarawa child by a fellow tribesman in Tirur and the associated legal conundrum is making headlines worldwide, one pertinent question not being dealt with is the ongoing sexual exploitation of the Jarawa women by outsiders. It obscures the fact that first, a crime has been committed by someone who breached the reserve and sexually exploited a Jarawa woman.

In all these years, the state has failed in securing the reserve against poachers, who exploit the tribe as well as prey on forest resources. More unfortunate has been the inability to sensitise the settlers living along the fringes of the Jarawa Tribal Reserve and even the islanders about the rich “human heritage” and the particular vulnerabilities of the Jarawa community. This has been an opportunity missed to rope in the large settler population of the islands as the protectors or at least well-wishers of the tribe.

In contrast, the level of illicit contact has increased manifold in all three sectors —  Middle Strait and Kadamtala in Middle Andaman and Tirur in South Andaman, where several cases of sexual exploitation of women have been reported. With poachers becoming the contact points for the Jarawas, alcohol and drugs have made inroads into the reserve. Several poachers have been charged with luring the Jarawas with alcohol and food to part with forest produce.

The changed realities and the bad press the Andaman and Nicobar administration got from across the world, particularly after a video of Jarawas dancing for tourists in lieu of food surfaced in 2012, did force a re-look into the policy. A committee of experts set up in 2011 went on to make the rules, regulations and laws governing the tribal reserve more stringent to ward off “undesirable” elements. An overenthusiastic administration tied itself up in knots in creating an unrealistic 5-km buffer zone for the tribal reserve. It turned the settlers firmly against the administration and also the Jarawa community.

The appointment of anthropologist Vishvajit Pandya as the director of the Port Blair-based Andaman and Nicobar Tribal Research Institute (ANTRI) in 2013 was a significant one. Pandya not only convinced the reluctant and over-cautious administration of the islands to look beyond the existing policy framework, but he also played an important role in bringing drastic changes in the tribal welfare agency, the Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS), and in empowering and re-orienting the grassroots workers who deal with the Jarawas on a daily basis.

Earlier, the trained social workers of AAJVS, fairly competent in special tribal languages, were only meant to do the bidding of bureaucrats. Under Pandya, they went back to listening to the Jarawas and implementing policies with their informed consent. For instance, though the Jarawas preferred to be in their “traditional attire, when they are assisted by the AAJVS to move from one place to other by jeep or boat, they are keen to cover their body. It is, perhaps, a way of resisting the tourist experience and expectation of the Jarawa as a “naked exotic” people.

An educational project, ang-katha, was also implemented inside the tribal reserve for Jarawa children, primarily aiming to prepare them for a bi-cultural future, where a Jarawa child could operate in the “mainstream” but also be able to retain her own identity with pride and dignity.

Two additional points also need to be made here. The first is about the Indian media, which in the case of the islands and the Jarawas, always seems to be taking a cue from what the foreign media publishes. It needs to play a far more pro-active role, including that of a watchdog. The second is the lacuna in the local education system where there is little, if anything, about the local geography and history of the indigenous people. When what is proximate is made so alien from the very beginning, a long-term and meaningful resolution is not going to be easy to come by.

Looking at the current incident in a larger context will also help to identify that which is more important and relevant. We have miserably failed in dealing with the honour killings by khap panchayats of Haryana and the Dalit killings in Tamil Nadu despite a whole gambit of laws and constitutional protection. So, instead of discussing the honour killing by a Jarawa, a tribe that occupies a very special position due to its geographical, historical, cultural and social condition, the focus should be on a policy framework, where the Jarawas are protected from the evils of “civilization” and be allowed the time and space to decide their own future.

The writer is a Port Blair-based journalist and researcher.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Out of Syllabus, Out of Mind!

Out of Syllabus, Out of Mind!

By Zubair Ahmed

Ask any student from Andaman and Nicobar Islands the location of Chowra or Teressa Island, and 90% would fail to answer the question. Ask them about Timbuktu or Congo, and it’s likely they will have all the details. The A&N islands are home to mountains, the sea, beaches, forests, plains and even tribal communities not found anywhere else, and yet, little of this is part of the school curriculum here.

This is not how it has always been. The British had, in fact, successfully introduced study of local geography in the islands in the early part of the 20th century itself: Jughrafia – Jazair Andaman o Nicobar, nicknamed Andaman ka Jughrafia, the geography text book written by Master Abdus Subhan in 1935 in Urdu for students of the 3rd standard.

Subhan explains in his preface of the book that the British had made the study of the geography of the islands compulsory in 1920 itself. There were no books available though there was no dearth of reports and data in English and teachers taught whatever they could, according to their own level of understanding. That was when Abdus Subhan embarked upon the onerous task of preparing a proper book for the students.

Though basically a book of geography, it gave quite a lucid idea of the state of affairs in those days. There is a short account of the history of the place - a few words about the aborted first settlement in 1789, the Battle of Aberdeen, assassination of Lord Mayo, and developmental works under various chief commissioners. The geography portion is quite exhaustive and covers both the Andaman and Nicobar group of islands. It covers all the aspects that a book on geography should cover including the land, people, communication, climate, rainfall, agricultural produce, occupation of the people, industrial establishment, trades, towns and villages. The efforts of Master Abdus Subhan, at a time when technological support was non-existent, and the initiative of the colonial administration were commendable to say the least.

In independent India, the idea kept germinating every now and then, but there has been no serious attempt even after 70 years to teach the Islanders about their own Islands. Though there are a number of books written for the tourists, no concerted effort has been made to prepare a curriculum to familiarize the children about their own surroundings. And whom then can we blame if the islanders are insensitive towards the vulnerable tribes or the fragile ecology?

And even if a few books are being prepared and finalized due to efforts of a few non-governmental organizations, the implementation remains entangled in bureaucratic red-tapism.
 Published in the latest issue of the Protected Area Update, April 2016

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Jarawa Baby Killing: Open Letter to the Editor New York Times

Jarawa Baby Killing:
Open Letter to the Editor New York Times

From Prof. Vishvajit Pandya & Dr. Madhumita Mazumdar

We write this in response to the article titled “ Baby’s killing tests India’s protection of an Aboriginal Culture” written by Ellen Barry and Hari Kumar published in the NYT on March 13, 2016.

The article’s focus on the ethical and legal conundrum arising out of the case might have been well conceived had it been backed up by deeper research and understanding. Its conclusions based on comments from various ‘stakeholders’ too don’t shed any light on the complexities of the case. In fact what the article has done is to sensationalize the issue and stoke an uninformed debate about the Indian state’s policy of protection of its Particularly Vulnerable Tribal citizens.

To avert this needless debate the authors would have done well to focus not merely on the criminal investigation report and stoke the question of Jarawa culpability in the crime but ask more pressing questions relating to the series of immediate events and the larger conditions that led to it. In other words it should have probed deeper into the role of the non-tribal offenders in the case and asked why they should have entered the Tribal Reserve, supplied alcohol to the two young Jarawa men and instigate them to abduct the baby and kill it. If we assume that the practice of eliminating illegitimate children is still pervasive among the Jarawa community, then the question would be why the Jarawa would have needed the help of non-tribal intruders to carry  out the act this time? This question becomes particularly important if we go by tribal welfare records of the practice over the last decade. First of all it is clear that practice of killing illegitimate children among the Jarawas has dwindled and almost stopped as a result of relentless sensitization of the community by tribal welfare officers. Anup Kumar Mondol senior Tribal Welfare Officer in the Kadamtala region has been at the forefront of persuading Jarawas to end the practice and encourage adoption of such children by willing members of the community. His and his team’s efforts have borne heartening results and the practice of “shankhutayen” or the killing of illegitimate children has almost disappeared.

In this context the sudden ‘revival’ of “shankhutayen” in certain specific segments of the Jarawa reserve i.e. in the Tirur region (where this incident happened) has to be probed more carefully. Particularly because it has to be seen in the light of of the peculiar settler-Jarawas relations that have manifested here both in their ‘collusive’ and in their exploitative aspects. This is a troubling yet relevant question if one goes by the number of cases of poaching, illegal intrusion and sexual exploitation of Jarawa women that have been reported from this particular region over the years. There is ample reason to believe that habitual sexual offenders who are often the cause of unwanted pregnancies would have a vested interest in keeping alive a practice that has the potential to shield them from both legal and social censure. It also allows them to transfer blame onto a community that has no power to speak for itself in a court of law. In this case Subramani the prime accused was the father of the child and it is possible he instigated the killing in a cynical attempt to remove evidence of his sexual offences in the Reserve.

It would therefore be a grave mistake to make easy assumptions of culpability of the Jarawa man and bring him under the Indian state’s criminal justice system without addressing the insidious role of the offenders in this case.

In our opinion neither the assertion of cultural relativist positions on Jarawa practices, nor the mobilization of old stereotypes of the ‘savage primitive ‘ nor even the invocation of labels such as ‘human heritage’ help in making sense of the events that led to the killing of the infant. The authors should have focused not only the perceived crime but on the context behind it. To suggest that the killing of illegitimate children among Jarawas is a long held practice is not enough to assign blame on a community or assign equal culpability on the Jarawa man. Prudence dictates that such instances be understood in their own specific terms. The need of the hour therefore is to unravel the nexus and modus operandi of the prime accused in this case and to regulate further intrusions into the forest. In this context it may be useful to note that tribal welfare administration has already initiated a process of organizing young Jarawa men and sensitizing them to report cases of poaching and illegal intrusions in the Reserve Territory. But a more concerted, strong and sustained state effort must be in place for this to work effectively. The state is committed to the protection of the community and it is expected that offenders don’t get away with such impunity.

To conclude, the question of the Jarawa man’s culpability and the ethical and legal conundrum it has generated for the administration, remains a needless distraction in a case where the prime accused has still a lot to answer for. The authors of this piece would have done well if they chose to pose the problem in ways that would have shed greater light on the specificities of the case and the larger politics behind its slanted reportage in the media.

Prof Vishwajit Pandya is Professor of Anthropology at the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology and is also the Founder and Honorary Director of the Andaman and Nicobar Tribal Research Institute (ANTRI).

Madhumita Mazumdar is Associate Professor at DAIICT.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Nation Must Know About Andamans!

The Nation Must Know About Andamans!

By Zubair Ahmed

I couldn't watch the Times Now Newshour debate on 28th Jan 2016 and 1st Feb 2016, as I don't watch television nowadays. I saw both the debates on youtube today morning. As an Andaman Islander, I am a little confused how to respond. Whether I should be happy that the tourist footfall is increasing or should be unhappy for the corporators and similar folks wasting taxpayers money shamelessly by paying visits to our Islands.

Undoubtedly, Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a dream tourism destination and also a place of pilgrimage. Even Baba Ramdev mesmerized by its beauty has imposed himself on us as our Brand Ambassador. Now, he will promote our Islands. Lighthouse tourism or Island-based Yog Tourism without Baba holding any stake in it might be the bottom-line. That's the entrepreneurial spirit!

I don't know about junkets, but I am quite sure that the parliamentarians, legislators, corporators, and even Panchayat representatives from our country know very well that October to March is the best season to study Andamans.  They all come, and mostly hold a meeting with the concerned department authorities, at Megapode Nest Conference Hall with a banner depicting the purpose of their visit and then they "also" pay visit to places of tourist interest, nay, historical importance.

Most important item on any itinerary of all these committees and study groups is a visit to Havelock Island, where a postal stamp, a toilet block, a changing room, or a mobile tower is dedicated to the nation by the visiting dignitary. And its ensured that they interact with the PRI members of the Island too. Last couple of months were chock-a-block with Ministers and other dignitaries of different hues.

What prompted me to pen down this blog is not the junkets that our elected members or the bureaucrats undertake to the Islands, but the way the panelists on the channel debate was referring to the Islands. One panelist Mr Shailesh Gandhi former CIC and an RTI activist was heard yelling on top of his voice that there is nothing to study in Andamans except fish! And that too if we take a glass bottom boat and see the corals.

Yes, I do agree that the Mumbai Corporators were on a junket and their itinerary was changed top to bottom the instant they landed in Port Bair to make it appear like a study tour. In fact, a loss to the travel agent who had chalked out a perfect tour programme for the visiting corporators. They were forced to attend a few meetings here and there as an eyewash.

But to say that there is nothing to learn in Andamans is a bit an arrogant statement. I would suggest all states to send study groups to see how the Islands apart from its natural bounties have nurtured a society with a cultural mix which is in many ways a role model for the country to follow.

Our parliamentarians and legislators should learn how peaceful and tranquil the Islands are.  Inspite of origins of different regions, the communal and linguistic harmony is something the Mumbai corporators need to learn from the Islands. No language or religion tries to dominate or smother others. Casteism in true sense is just a column in various forms that we get from mainland.

The day the corporators from Mumbai were in Port Blair, we heard that they filed complaint being left without any security. In fact, we felt the heat next day. While going towards Sinclairs, to have tea and vada from a small tea joint, next to the hotel, the stretch from Marina Park to Govt Press were barricaded with more policemen than joggers. When enquired a constable said that the bandobust is due to VIP movement.

One request the Islanders would like to make to these corporators is that the Islands, though located in a strategic location is the most safest and secure place in the country. Nobody cares, if a VIP takes a stroll on the road. No one will even notice them, forget harming them in any way. The sense of safety and security in the Islands is unparalleled. When you are on a visit to study, kindly don't teach us your sense of security and bandobast, which we are not used to.

Whatever, you have to learn, you may learn it from the nature here. Nature provides as well as takes care of the Islanders here. No city can afford the extent of rain that the Islands receive. And, it doesn't flood at many places not due to any artificial intervention. The topography of the Islands, and its hilly nature helps the water to drain into the sea. A few bottlenecks here and there are the contribution of mankind.

Though, the Islands faced one of the worst disasters in 2004, as of now, the level of disaster preparedness is quite high. It's a truth even acknowledged by a visiting "study team" from Japan. However, the nature of disasters the Islands probably face is still a challenge. Though, comparatively, loss of life in disasters is minimal in the Islands.

Apart from the Corporators, what the panelists can also learn from the Islands is the level of tolerance and patience of the Islanders. Their laid back lifestyle is not something which they have learned from the nature. It's gradually ingrained by the system of governance. In fact they are bureaucrat-resilient. The time they spend on jetties waiting for ferries or boats have made them patient and tolerant. Don't teach them the impatient and intolerant Mumbai local train culture.

You need to be very sure what you learn from the Islands and what you don't teach the Islanders. Take a lesson of harmonious living without any kind of discrimination and please don't teach us the poisonous tirades that you practice.

By the way, did the  visiting dignitaries ever noticed, how indifferent the Islanders were about the purpose of their visit? In fact, when the Nation was busy trying to know the intention of the Mumbai corporators' visit to the Islands, the Islanders were as usual patiently waiting for ferry on the jetties totally unconcerned about the hullabaloo.

That's one thing the Nation may want to Know if they can find the time!