Namaste from the Andaman Islands,
Naomi Klein – that courageous journalist from Canada – wrote about disaster capitalism in her book “The Shock Doctrine” in 2007. She outlined the growing number of cases in which right-wing ideologues had taken advantage of a people/community/nation at a time when they had just endured a traumatic natural disaster. She outlined the way that reactionaries had swept into New Orleans soon after the waters from Hurricane Katrina had subsided and set up the new school system based on their own ideology. Ms Klein also detailed the way that the moneyed westerners had ‘invaded’ South Asia immediately after the 2004 Tsunami with offers of assistance. The end result was a new way for the people to live. Guess which way.
In exposed islands in South Asia the tsunami had a devastating effect. Some have never recovered. Many people died and communities still suffer in many places today.
part of India
The Andaman Islands and Nicobar Islands are a string of north-south islands which are the highest peaks of a submerged mountain range. They belong to India, even though they are much closer to Burma and Thailand, where many of their people originate.
The Nicobar Islands were badly damaged by the 2004 tsunami and, today, the local people have exercised enough political clout to maintain their privacy from voyeuristic tourists and gluttonous developers. Access to the islands is for locals only. The population on the Nicobars is of Mongoloid origins. They are largely a fishing community, catching their fish from single outriggers (something the Australian Aborigines never devised, incidentally). Otherwise, they are not dissimilar in appearance and habits to the Australian indigenes.
The original Andaman Islanders are said to have migrated by land and sea as the Negritos, during the Mesolithic period. The islands are full of kitchen middens, which are mounds of refuse. These mounds include organic matter but also tools. Some of these kitchen middens have been dated to be 2280 years old.
Today, the population of the Andamans is reasonably sparse by comparison to mainland India. 23% speak Bengali (these were, I’m guessing, descendants of refugees rehabilitated to the Andamans after India’s independence), 19% speak Tamil (these were, I’m guessing, repatriated from Ceylon before, during or after their civil war) and 18% speak Hindi (newer arrivals, I’d say).
The good news is that the tsunami damage to the Andamans has not heralded a surge of unscrupulous developers. There is evidence that the tsunami did physical damage to beaches – including the one photographed in the last epistle – but life is going on pretty much as it did beforehand.
This means that the Andamans are still largely unspoiled by garish development. The islands are charming, quiet and quaint. What’s more, the locals are happy the way it is. (There is some evidence of unobtrusive development such as an extension of the jetty in progress and expansion work at Port Blair’s airport, but not too alarming at this juncture.)
The eastern side of Havelock Island has a fringing reef which is exposed by low tides and mangroves. The leeside has some mangroves too but Radhanagar Beach is beautiful. Adding to the aesthetic appeal and the perfect water colour and temperature was the pleasant surprise of an elephant down at the beach (on both days we were there). Linda had her heart set on swimming with the elephant but I’m afraid we missed that delight on this visit. She’s been dreaming of a return ever since.
Disaster capitalism is one of the more sordid facets of capitalism. It’s great to see that the Indian government has protected some of the precious resources from that depravity with rules about access and development. Let’s hope it stands firm on the principle.
from an Indian paradise in the Bay of Bengal