The mention of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands conjures up a picture of Kala paani and Veer Savarkar, of an India away from India, and a peaceful co-existence of various communities. But this picture is incomplete. For it does not have any place for the indigenous communities that have flourished here for over 20,000 years. It does not account for the dangers posed to their fragile lifestyles as the juggernaut of so-called development, set into motion by policy-makers residing in faraway Delhi, threatens to crush all in its path.
Little, if any, research or publication in the mainstream Indian media has been seen on this aspect of island life in the past few decades. Troubled Islands, is a compilation of articles since 1998, written by Pankaj Sekhsaria, focuses on precisely these issues. These articles take a look at some of the key issues faced by the islands and the islanders today and follow the major developments that have taken place here in the last few years.
Sekhsaria is a member of the environmental action group, Kalpavriksh, and a LEAD fellow from India. He is a freelance writer and photographer and has been following the developments in A&N for nearly a decade. In 1998, he had just returned from the islands after completing a six-month Kalpavriksh investigative project, funded by the Bombay Natural History Society. As part of the project, he looked at some of the key issues on the islands - the extraction of timber, the diminishing natural habitat, the danger to the lives of the indigenous communities, and the impacts of sand mining on the coastal systems in the island.
He then began to pen down his observations and thoughts in various publications - Frontline, Sanctuary Asia, The Hindu, and Economic and Political Weekly. Troubled Islands chronicles this entire spectrum of his experiences in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In the first few pages, he outlines the demographic profile of the islanders, and explains how their alienation came about. The next few articles detail the practice of logging on the islands, and chronicle how the excess of this practice finally saw concerned environmentalists take the matter to the Supreme Court. A few articles are devoted to the peril that the indigenous communities, especially the Jarawa tribes, have found themselves in, thanks to some of the developmental activities taken up by the island administration.
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