Thursday, June 29, 2017

Island worlds...of land and sea

Circles in the sky and circles in the water -
Tree ferns in the canopy of the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve (2006) and Jelly fish near the jetty, Ross Island (1998)...
Part of 'Island worlds...of land and sea' an exhibition of A&N photographs, all printed on silk! @ the Art Gallery, Kamaladevi Complex, India International Centre, New Delhi. July 22 to Aug 2.
Inauguration on July 21 (6.30 pm) by Namita Gokhale.
Illustrated lecture on the islands at the exhibition venue on Thursday, July 27 (6.30 pm). The session with be chaired by Amita Baviskar...

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#andamans #nicobar #andamanicobar #islandworlds #islandsinflux #thelastwave #photography #photographs #exhibition #iic

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

'Island worlds... of land and sea'

  ISLAND WORLDS…of land and sea
A photographic Exhibition on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Specially produced on silk
Pankaj Sekhsaria
The Art Gallery, Kamaladevi Complex,
India International Centre, New Delhi – 110003
22 July (Saturday) to 2 August, 2016 (Wednesday)
11 am to 7.00 pm

Friday, 21st July, 6.30 pm
Namita Gokhale, Author

A special illustrated talk on the islands by Pankaj Sekhsaria

27th July (Thursday): 6.30 pm
Chair: Dr Amita Baviskar

Specially re-produced on silk fabric to create a new visual and aesthetic experience, this exhibition is a story, in images, of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and a world of mystery and charm we know so little about. Washed by a rolling green and blue sea, this fragile world is rich with startling beauty and magical lyricism. Ancient turtles nesting on desolate beaches, translucent jellyfish floating in rich tropical waters, giant rainforest trees holding up the heavens, whistling teals in the soft light of a reflected moon…turning away is a challenge as we are drawn into this striking but delicate, gossamer like island worlds

Island Worlds brings together Pankaj Sekhsaria’s 20 years of work and photography in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The exhibition travels to Delhi after successful shows in 2016 in Pune, Chennai and Goa.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Race to the sunrise - an extract from Islands in Flux

Race to the sunrise

Pankaj Sekhsaria

In this excerpt from Islands in Flux, Pankaj Sekhsaria remembers when a remote Nicobar island almost lured tens of thousands over a non-event, before common sense prevailed
The Royal Greenwich Observatory had announced a few years ago that the first sunrise of the new millennium would be visible from the island of Katchal in the Nicobar group of islands in the Bay of Bengal. The recent few months have seen the tourism industry and the A&N administration in a tizzy as they went about planning a huge millennium tamasha. Efforts were on to get more than 20,000 tourists (largely foreigners) to the tiny and remote island of Katchal, which was advertised as the only place in the world where the first sunrise of the millennium will be visible.
It appeared to be the perfect situation for a huge tourism event — an exotic, remote island, an occasion that will never come again, and a government eager and willing to lay out the red carpet. However, the entire event came to be seriously questioned and opposed by a number of environmental groups from across the country as there were serious flaws. The opposition was strong and sustained and eventually the administration had to respond. In a secretary-level meeting held in Port Blair in early August 1999, a decision was taken to scale down the plan substantially.
The campaign that was coordinated by SANE was based on detailed research and solid facts. The very fact that Katchal was being promoted as the only place where the first sunrise of the new millennium will be visible is incorrect. A clarification issued by experts of the internationally renowned, Pune-based Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) categorically asserted that these claims were preposterous and that there were at least two falsehoods that were being perpetrated — one that the new millennium begins on January 1, 2000, and the other that Katchal is the only place where the sunrise will be visible.
Experts all over the world, and this includes the United States Naval Observatories, the National Bureau of Standards and Technology of the US and the Royal Greenwich Observatory, England (before its demise in 1998) have accepted and adopted January 1, 2001 (and not 2000) as the beginning of the new millennium.
The explanation for this is rather simple. There was no zero year and we actually began this calendar with the year 1. Accordingly, the first year was completed at the end of year 1, the first century at the end of year 100, the first millennium at the end of year 1000 and this, the second millennium, at the end of year 2000. Therefore, January 1, 2000 is only the first day of the last year of this millennium and not the beginning of the new one. The Y2K problem seems to have struck here as well, but in an entirely different way.
The second issue is of the site where this first sunrise would be visible. From a technical point of view, the issue of the first sunrise is not as simple as it initially seems. The US Naval Observatory in its document titled ‘First Sunrise of the New Millennium’ discusses some of these issues in detail: “(…) It is important to realise that on any January 1, the sun is continuously above the horizon across most of Antarctica.” So, very simply put, the place where the first sunrise of the new millennium will be seen is Antarctica. However, beyond this, the question becomes more involved. Does the new day begin at local midnight, in the time defined by the local jurisdiction? Or, does it begin at midnight on the meridian of Greenwich in England, which is the zero longitude meridian, ie, 0 hours GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) also known as 0 hours UT (Universal Time)?
Significantly, the paper states that at 0 hours UT, which is generally taken to be the start of a new day, the sun is rising simultaneously along an arc that runs 650 km east of Kerguelen Island in the Indian Ocean to about 640 km east of Amsterdam Island, through the Nicobar Islands, up along the Burma-Thailand border, through China, along the China-Outer Mongolia border, along the China-Russia border, through Siberia, and out into the Arctic Ocean just north of the Poluostrov Peninsula. All places along this line will experience sunrise simultaneously at 0 hours UT in 2000 or 2001 or any other year. There is simply no unique ‘first sunrise’ location. The other interesting dimension is that the time of sunrise is always calculated for sea level. This means that if you go higher, the sunrise is seen earlier. For example, if one was to move 1,000m above sea level, the sunrise would be visible four minutes and 3.8 seconds earlier than a person at sea level at the same point. Theoretically, this also means that if a person is roughly 100 km west of Katchal but 1,000m above sea level, he will see this sunrise at about the same time as an observer at Katchal who will be at sea level. The basic argument is that there is nothing spectacularly unique about the sunrise at Katchal. Various permutations and combinations would give the same results.
The arguments over the timing of the new millennium, the time of the sunrise and the exact location could well have been discarded as academic. The logic of raising these points can also be questioned if this unique opportunity had been beneficial to all. But that was precisely the point. There are far greater and serious issues involved in allowing this incorrectly nomenclatured event on the tiny island of Katchal, says Samir Acharya of SANE, who was the first to realise the problems with an event of this nature. The resident population of Katchal is only 12,000, and nearly 4,000 of these are the Nicobari tribals. The impact of suddenly inducting an additional 20,000 outsiders on this island for a day or two can well be imagined. Acharya points out that this could create a huge health hazard. The presence of 20,000 people means that a minimum of 20,000 to 30,000 kg of human excreta and thousands of litres of liquid waste will be added to the local environment and this will be in addition to unknown quantities of other solid waste like paper and plastic, to name the common ones.
There is another important aspect that was also being ignored. Katchal is the traditional home of the Nicobari tribals. It was designated a tribal reserve under the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation (ANPATR) of 1957, and special permissions have to be obtained if outsiders want to visit.
Additionally, the entire group of Nicobar Islands has always been considered a sensitive area and the entry of foreigners is strictly prohibited. In fact, in the last 30 years, except for one single occasion, not a single tribal pass has been issued to any foreigner to visit the Nicobars. The only exception was the permission given to Rene Dekkar who was specially invited by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), government of India, to study the endangered bird, the megapode, which is found in these islands.
It is significant that in the past, as eminent a person as the legendary Captain Cousteau (of Calypso fame), who wanted to study corals off the Nicobars was denied permission. Renowned institutions like Cambridge University, England, and the Vokkenmuseum (Museum of Anthropology), Berlin, too had their requests to study the wild boar and the famous pottery of Chowra Island turned down. Why then, questioned Acharya, is the island administration taking the retrograde step of permitting 20,000 tourists of unknown vintage to visit Katchal to celebrate the non-event of a pseudo-millennium sunrise? This is the ultimate degenerate step that the government can take, he says.
Besides, there are other fears too. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are unsurpassed in their botanical wealth, and the ethno-medical knowledge of the tribals who live here is astounding. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the event will become a convenient entry point for bio-prospectors and pharmaceutical multinationals who are always on the look out for virgin areas to explore. Prevention and even a little over-cautiousness is certainly far better than any corrective action that may be suggested in the future.
A lot of resources and public money are being spent on the event. Recently, a new circuit house in the island, which violates the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), was inaugurated on the island. New work was also being undertaken for the laying of pipelines and the construction of a power-generating station.
For the present, however, the brakes have been applied, though the event itself has not been called off. The decision taken was that the number of tourists will be scaled down from 20,000 to only 2,000. No foreigners will be allowed to land on Katchal or any other island in the Nicobars, but those interested in viewing the sunrise could view it from ships. It has also been decided that a Doordarshan crew will be allowed to land on Katchal and record the sunrise for posterity.
The only problem, and surprisingly nobody seems to realise it yet, is that this is the wrong sunrise!
(This article was published in The Hindu on September 19, 1999)
Pankaj Sekhsaria researches issues at the intersection of environment, science, society and technology
The book is available in stores across the country and on amazon: 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Islands in Flux - in Port Blair

'Islands in Flux' and 'The Last Wave' now in Port the Mubarak Hyper Market, opp YMCA and Head Post Office...


Also available in the islands on Havelock and in Port Blair (Tarang Trades and Sagarekha Emporium, MG Rd). And in stores across the country. On amazon (print and kindle):

Monday, June 12, 2017

Win a free copy of 'The Last Wave'

3 free copies of 'The Last Wave - an island novel'
Via this Goodreads Giveaway!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A case for our fragile ecosystem...

Book review: A case for our fragile ecosystem...

Published : May 26, 2017, 2:24 am IST
Updated : May 26, 2017, 2:24 am IST
In his book, Sekhsarai is dedicated to the cause of retaining the endemic nature of the islands as well as its original inhabitants.
Tree cutting at Wandoor for former President Pratibha Patil’s visit.
 Tree cutting at Wandoor for former President Pratibha Patil’s visit.

On visiting Andaman this March end on a family vacation, we decided to take the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) to reach the northern end of the island from Port Blair on the south-east. The ATR runs along the Jarowa Tribal Reserve, the area demarcated for the tribe, and it is the main point of contact between the tribal population and the locals who use the road for trade and tourism.
There are marked differences between the Jarowas and locals, mainly Karens (originally inhabitants of Myanmar), Bengalis and Tamils, in terms of appearance, lifestyle and culture, leading to a conflict of interest when they meet. Hence, the ATR traffic is regulated by allowing convoys to pass at fixed times and the convoys are chaperoned by Army vehicles to ensure that there is no interaction with the Jarowas whose numbers have dwindled since the tribe established contact with the outside world.
While our convoy was passing through the ATR, a tourist bus broke down and all the vehicles came to a halt. Most of us had to get off to let our vehicles bypass the bus. Out on the road, we saw Jarowa men, women and children, dressed in shirts, trousers and flowing dresses, and this led to a general excitement. Most of us had half-baked ideas about the Jarowas, and how they once were hostile to outsiders, using bows and arrows to keep them away. Some of the more enthusiastic tourists even took out their cameras.
However, it is this kind of tourism where the Jarowas are reduced to a spectacle for their exotic looks that has come under fire in recent times and there are strict rules in place to prevent tourists from taking pictures. But rules are often broken until someone takes the onus to prevent that. This time around, a Jarowa man took it upon himself to shout at a tourist who was slyly taking out his camera. He spoke in clear Hindi and warned the tourist of being arrested. It was a moment that caught everyone off-guard because despite the changes in Jarowa attire, nobody had expected them to speak in fluent Hindi to reinforce their right of being treated like equals.
I picked up Pankaj Sekhsarai’s fiction, The Last Wave (2014), from a bookshop in Andaman. It highlights the loss of agency that the Jarowas went through after they decided to open up to the outside world. For Indians who know little about the islands, it is the perfect start to understand the state of affairs in the Bay of Bengal island system.

It is written on the lines of The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh. Just as Ghosh’s book captures the Sundarbans, Sekhsarai’s book merges many anecdotes about the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, capturing the many facets of the island. These include the tribal and local populations, the crocodiles in the mangroves, the turtles on the beaches as well as the outsiders who reached the islands and stayed on or left.
Sekhsaria is a researcher, writer and academic who has worked in the field of environment and wildlife conservation with a focus on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a member of the environmental action group Kalpavriksh.
 Islands in Flux: The Andaman and Nicobar Story is a compilation of Sekhsarai’s journalistic writings on the Bay of Bengal island system, research papers and court documents, giving a comprehensive picture of the changing ecosystem of the islands. Sekhsarai says in the preface that he thought about the book in 2016 after then environment minister Prakash Javadekar showed a “striking ignorance of the recent context and history of the islands” in his plans for the islands.
In his book, Sekhsarai is dedicated to the cause of retaining the endemic nature of the islands as well as its original inhabitants, both facing the threat of extinction, or in the least, a state of permanent damage, for the thoughtless handling of their interests by mainlanders and outsiders. The book is filled with interesting incidents like late President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam’s grandiose military and tourism plans for the fragile islands on the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, or the cutting down of nearly 400 trees so that former President Pratibha Patil’s helicopter could land safely.
The book talks about the problems that the islands are facing and there is a demand for action and activism in its passages. Sekhsarai builds up the case against timber extraction as well as the ATR by citing research papers and court judgments that are yet to be taken seriously and implemented. He cites research that shows logging is turning the tropical evergreen forests into deciduous, leading to a loss of biodersity and endemic species.
The curious case of the ATR, joining north Andaman to the south, is another focal point of the book. The unregulated exchanges between the Jarowas and outsiders on the ATR often lead to controversies. In 2012, a video footage showing semi-naked Jarowa tribal women, allegedly being ordered to dance before tourists, prompted the Centre to seek a report on the incident from the administration. The case made headlines in many Indian newspapers, but Sekhsarai offers a better understanding of the complexity of the issue through his study of the Jarowas as well as the locals.
Sekhsarai highlights the problems of unregulated contact with the Jarowas with facts and figures, like the outbreak of mainland diseases among the Jarowas or the loss of forestland due to the cutting of trees, which in turn adversely affects their lifestyle and number.
In a 2002 judgment, the Supreme Court had ordered the shutting down of the ATR, but it was never implemented. Here, the economic interests of the local populations who elect Andaman’s single MP are prioritised over and above the interests of the Jarowas, a dwindling population. However, Sekhsarai reminds us that the Jarowas have been residing in the islands from much before the mainland Indians found their way to it. The local administration promised to create an alternate sea route by May 2015, but even in 2017 the ATR traffic is up and running.
Islands in Flux is a cautionary book about what happens when our leaders in Delhi forget to pay attention to those parts of the country that lie far away. They look to the islands only as a strategic military location. Sekhsarai focuses on the government’s militaristic vision for the islands, specially after the 2004 tsunami that has pushed the Nicobar to the fringes more than ever. The Nicobar Islands were affected on a larger scale than the Andaman by it. It changed Nicobar’s topography and caused the most deaths there. However, the author cautions us against reducing the richest part of our country in terms of endemic species into a mere Army base.

The books are now available in stores across the country and via amazon (print and kindle):

Do we need 'celebrity tigers'?

Do we need ‘celebrity tigers’?

One of the most intriguing trends to have emerged in the Indian wildlife conservation discourse in recent years is that of the ‘celebrity tiger’. Whether it is Ustad or Machhli in Rajasthan’s Ranthambhore National Park, Prince in Bandipur in Karnataka, or Jai, Srinivas and Bittu in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district, these are tigers or tigresses with an individual presence and identity that is matched by little else.
The very fact that they have a name suggests, already, that something has happened that is not common. The tiger might be a wild, forest living entity, but the ‘celebrity tiger’ is clearly an urban creation—a heady mix of burgeoning tourism where the urban elites escape to the wild for heart thumping encounters, growing incomes that allow for the travel and purchase of expensive, sophisticated photographic equipment and an explosion of the world of social media where images and compliments are exchanged freely and where the boundaries between the expert and the commoner have been blurred considerably.
There is raging debate on whether this, the ‘celebrity tiger’ phenomenon, is good news or bad news for conservation and the jury is still out on that. Some have said that the fame of a tiger attracts public and media attention, that this attention and constant scrutiny forces field authorities to be on constantly on their toes because a missing ‘celebrity tiger’ is instant news and all of this allows for conservation issues to be brought into the mainstream of politics, policy-making and public consciousness.
The best example of this, perhaps, is Ustad from Ranthambhore whose capture and incarceration on grounds that he had become a threat to humans became the subject of debate that captured media headlines around the world. More recently, the disappearance of Jai, the much photographed star of Chandrapur in Maharashtra, led to another huge uproar and to questions being asked of wildlife management and protection in the region. Had the tigers not been famous, it has been argued, we would have never known as to what was happening.

Too much attention

But there is the counter argument, which maintains that a ‘celebrity tiger’ draws too much attention to itself, that too much resource and attention gets focused on it and this draws away from the larger conservation interest of the species in particular and of wildlife in general. Is it possible, for instance, that the uproar and focus on the missing Jai meant valuable human, financial and scientific resources were taken away from less glamorous species and areas? In the case of Machhli who died in Ranthambhore a few months ago, huge efforts were made in keeping her alive because an iconic, famous tigress could not be allowed to die! According to one argument, valuable resources were wasted in keeping alive an animal that had no role to play anymore in the ecological context of her location.

And it is at precisely this point we need to make a departure from a discussion that is focused only on ecology, conservation and protection. The ‘celebrity tiger’ is not a construct of its conservation value and ecological role alone; it is as much a sociological construction as it is a function of the political economy of conservation and of tourism.

Many questions

This opens up many other interesting avenues as it allows for many other questions to be asked. Why this particular name? Who named the animal? How and why did the animal become so famous? Who really benefits from the fame of the tiger? Why was Machhli not allowed to die? What happens to other tigers who die every other week without being noticed? Why is it that we don’t have a famous tiger from the Simlipal tiger reserve in Odisha or the Kawal tiger reserve in Telangana? Why don’t we have a famous lion or rhino or elephant yet?
Having conclusive answers to these questions may or may not be possible, and that’s not the point either. The point here are the questions themselves. Engaging with them even as thought experiments will allow us to understand that conservation is a complex, multi-layered and much contested terrain.
It is as much about the villagers who depend on these very forests and resources for their livelihood, as it is about remote urban publics for whom forests mean leisure, photographs and social media communities. It is as much about wildlife as it is about politics and economics. History is implicated here, so is the media and so are the power structures and biases of our society.
The tiger operates within this complex matrix and engaging with this complexity may, in fact, offer the best chance going forward—for the tiger who’s become a celebrity and for the many more who have not and who never will!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Andaman Crisis - A review in Frontine of 'Islands in Flux'

The book is a laudable attempt to raise awareness about the adverse impact of development on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and its indigenous people. By S. GOPIKRISHNA WARRIER

INDIA was colonised once, but the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were colonised twice and continue to be colonised even now. This is a rather bold statement to make, especially today, when the national government is concentrating political power into one mainstream narrative, where even the voices of State governments are given short shrift, leave alone peripheral island territories. But this is the subtext running through all the chapters of Pankaj Sekhsaria’s Islands in Flux: The Andaman and Nicobar Story. The book, which consolidates his experience as a researcher-journalist writing about the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for more than two decades, is a compilation of 25 analytical features he has written since the 1990s in various publications, including Frontline, The Hindu, Economic & Political Weekly and Indian Birds.
The pieces in the compilation look at the unique setting of the archipelago, its environment, history and indigenous communities. Also included are the impacts of the tsunami of December 2004, which raised the edge of the some of the islands and submerged into the sea some others, and of the Supreme Court judgment in the Thirumulpad (forestry) case.The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are geographically closer to Myanmar and Thailand than to mainland India, are unique in their geography and history. This large archipelago system in the Bay of Bengal has 306 islands and 206 rocks and rocky outcrops, covering an area of 8,200 square kilometres. Of these, only 38 islands are inhabited. The islands are home to four indigenous tribal communities: the Great Andamanese, the Onge, the Jarawa and the Sentinelese. The communities are believed to have lived on these islands for the past 40,000 years.
The point that Sekhsaria emphasises throughout the book is that while colonisation in mainland India ended when the British left in 1947, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands the recolonisation happened when the Indian government took charge of the country after Independence. “Independent India was only about a couple of decades old, a young thriving democracy as it would have been called then. But this vibrant democracy was already on course to becoming a coloniser itself. In the late 1960s, an official plan of the Government of India to ‘colonise’ the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was firmly in place.”
According to this plan, the forests were wastelands that needed to be tamed, settled and developed. Writes Sekhsaria: “It did not matter that these forests were the home of myriad plants and animals that had evolved over aeons. It did not matter that ancient tribal peoples were living here for centuries, neither that they were physically and spiritually sustained by these forests. The idea that forests could mean more than just the timber the trees provided had not even taken seed in the national consciousness.”
Actions and statements by successive national governments and island administrations proved that this faulty philosophy of recolonising the islands was never corrected. In fact, the situation only got worse. When President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam visited the islands in May 2005 (in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami), he announced his vision for recovery and development of the islands. He said that the islands should have the infrastructure for hosting one million tourists every year, a number far larger than the resident population of 400,000.
“There is a crisis here,” Sekhsaria said in his piece for Tehelka magazine (issue dated June 25, 2005). “The islands are presently dealing with basic issues like water, food, infrastructure and housing. Would it not be better (and more ethical) to ensure that rehabilitation and reconstruction are done first in the best and fastest manner possible?”
The tsunami had a severe impact on the islands. In a piece published in Frontline in August 2006, Sekhsaria wrote about the damage that the earthquake and storm surge had caused. The tectonic activity that caused the tsunami changed the shape of some of the islands permanently. The northern parts of the Andaman group of islands experienced a permanent average uplift of 1.2 to 1.8 metres.
In contrast, parts of the Nicobar islands went into the sea. While the depth of submergence was 1.2 m in Car Nicobar, it was a deep 4.57 m at the southernmost tip, Indira Point on Great Nicobar Island. The pivot of swing for the islands was roughly south of Port Blair.
“Among the most significant but little studied or understood implications of this sudden, phenomenal change in the architecture of the islands is the impact on coastal and marine ecosystems such as mangroves, coastal forests and coral reefs. The extensive damage to these forests has also had catastrophic implications for a diverse range of rare and endemic flora and fauna that inhabited these systems,” the author says.
The tsunami even had military implications. The islands are of great strategic importance because of their location as a lookout post and launching pad. The tsunami had a twofold impact. It caused severe loss of life and property, especially at the Indian Air Force base in Car Nicobar. Secondly, the tilting of the land changed geographic boundaries.
Both these factors led to a re-emphasis on the islands’ strategic importance by the military. There have been efforts to strengthen military infrastructure and install and test weaponry. In March 2008, the Brahmos missile was test-fired on to one of the islands. “Is it likely that the devastation that was brought upon these islands in December 2004, particularly in the Nicobars, helped germinate the idea that the washed-out islands are now even more fertile territory for defence activity?” says Sekhsaria.
“A group of islands, which has always only existed on the margins of the consciousness of the nation, becomes even more legitimate territory in the strategic vision of the state. In any case, as we have seen already, many important echelons of power view these islands primarily as a security and economic adjunct to the nation state. Did the earthquake and tsunami further reify the fringeness of the fringe, allowing for experimentation, explosions and targeting in the interests of the Centre?”
An archipelago located near the equator, with an average annual rainfall between 3,000 mm and 3,500 mm and blessed with virgin volcanic soil, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have rich biological diversity in the form of plants, animals and underwater life. Is the environmental impact of the military activities in the islands being seriously assessed? Sekhsaria asks. Unsettling indigenous communities
He devotes considerable space to the indigenous communities. These communities have repeatedly and continuously borne the brunt of multiple pressures on their population. Between 1901 and 2011, the population of the Great Andamanese tribe reduced from 625 to 54, the Onge from 672 to 101, the Jarawa from 585 to 380, and the Sentinelese from 117 to 15. Thus, of the nearly 400,000 people living on the islands, the indigenous communities account for a minuscule 550. While the population of the others is on the rise, that of the tribes continues to decrease.
Logging and poaching are disturbing the habitat which has been the home of the Onges for thousands of years. Large tracts of rainforests that are home to the Jarawas have been cleared to accommodate settlers and the logging industry. To add to this, the 340-km Andaman Trunk Road, cutting through Jarawa territory, has opened up more areas to other communities. This has resulted in interaction and conflict between the Jarawas and other communities.
Since they have lived secluded lives for millennia, the indigenous people are unexposed to some of the diseases prevalent in mainstream society, diseases to which they have inadequate resistance. In August 1999, less than two years after their first contact with the public, 59 Jarawas contracted measles and bronchopneumonia infections and had to be treated at the G.B. Pant Hospital in Port Blair. Having reported about developments in the islands for more than two decades, Sekhsaria brings historical depth to his narrative and blends his understanding and insight as a scientist and as a writer.
The shortcoming of compiling his journalistic stories into a book is that the flow is broken. Some effort is needed to understand each piece within the larger narrative of his argument. Also, the reader has to constantly go back to the dateline of the published piece and recalibrate the historical context for every piece.
If the book succeeds in creating some understanding on the special treatment required for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, it will have achieved its purpose.
S. Gopikrishna Warrier is an environment journalist and blogger. 

The book is now available in stores across the country and via amazon (print and kindle):