THE LIGHT OF ANDAMANS | VOL 35 | ISSUE 20 | 2 DEC 2011
The Fate of Tsunami Affected Farmers
The Island economy is foremost not an agrarian economy. But, most of the communities, barring a few, had a stint in agriculture for some span of time during the settlement here. From locals to the recent settlers, everyone tried agriculture for sustenance during the early period and gradually shifted to other vocations as and when opportunities presented before them. They may have taken to farming during the early settlements, but now, there is a major shift in their vocation. And to find the reason is not very difficult.
They were rather forced to be farmers, just for the sake of feeding themselves. In 1858, when the first batch of convicts/freedom fighters, were deported here, they were engaged in clearing the forest for making the place fit for settlement. Later, not a thing to do, many of them start farming as a vocation, as it directly fed them, without depending on anybody else. Food was the main reason why they turned to agriculture. It would be preposterous to think of any other cause.
As the settlement grew and more people from the mainland joined them, most of them had to turn to their primary vocations. There were barbers, tailors, and many others. Some of them were actual farmers before deportation, like the Moplahs from Kerala, who were peasants working on lands owned by the Nairs in and around Malabar region. As usual they grew paddy in the field cleared by them. The Sindhis and Pathans also had experience of farming. They mostly grew sugarcane in the field. If they grew paddy, it was to feed the milching cows and buffalos.
The British had allotted 5 acres of agricultural land as part of the agricultural ticket given to the convicts/freedom fighters, who preferred to stay back even after they were released. Agriculture became their prime means to acquire food. Educational status was another reason, why they could not take up any other profession.
Later, through various settlement schemes announced by the Government of India, people from East Bengal, Ceylon, Kerala, Burma and ex-servicemen from Punjab arrived in hordes and settled at various places like, Diglipur, Mayabunder, Betapur, villages in South Andaman, Katchal and Campbell Bay.
With a few exceptions, the main vocation of these settlers was agriculture. The Bengali settlers in North Andaman, and Ex-servicemen in Campbell Bay were foremost agriculturists and are still engaged in the same. But to speak about the early convicts/freedom fighters, they were not skilled farmers. And in the due course, never wanted their children to go farming.
After independence, early settlers as not interested in their paddy fields, never tried any innovative methods or introduced any groundbreaking technology to increase the yield. It was just paddy during monsoon and a few vegetables during summer. They never exposed their children to agriculture. Instead, educating them were their major concern. Gradually, the paddy fields started remaining uncultivated for years. As getting education was easy, and finding employment with the administration easier, many families had one or two persons employed in different departments of the administrations.
Even the uneducated and conservative Moplahs, started sending their children to schools and once schooling completes, they also took to government jobs. Among the early settlers, only the first or second generation were farmers. The new generation may not be aware that their grandfathers even own agricultural land. In this way, more land remained unfarmed. Nobody was complaining. Even the agriculture department was not concerned.
As an alternative, voluntarily, sharecropping system started emerging. The influx as well as wide unemployment among the new entrants to the Islands paved way to sharing the crop between them and the landowner.
Although agriculture among the old inhabitants has taken a backseat, the land is precious for them, as it is the only thing they can bequeath to their coming generation. The land which now lies inundated by the tsunami of 2004.
After seven years, the farmers are waiting for emancipation, which seems to be not coming. Instead of spreading flowers at various monuments on the anniversary of the fateful day, it would be apt for the administration to compensate the farmers and close the chapter before next anniversary comes.