Islands In Flux – The Andaman And Nicobar Story
Sanctuary's Anadya Singh reviews Pankaj Sekhsaria’s book Islands in Flux – The Andaman and Nicobar Story.
By Pankaj Sekhsaria
Published by Harper Collins
Paperback, 268 pages,
Price: Rs. 399
From the author’s enduring tryst with the Andaman and Nicobar islands, comes another invigorating read, Islands in Flux.
In 2003, Sekhsaria published Troubled Islands: Writings of the Indigenous Peoples and Environment of The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a compact journalistic compilation of his writings and important documents related to the islands. Islands in Flux picks up where Troubled Islands left off, bringing readers up to date with developments that occurred within the last two decades in the islands.
Behind the idyllic beauty of these islands is a well-kept secret. Within its wraps exist neglected court orders, illegal mining permissions, large-scale logging, all sold under the prospect of ‘modernisation’. The keeper of this secret? Who other than the Indian administration, the underserved bearer of the legacy of these islands, left behind by the colonial rulers.
From being a colony of the British, India became a coloniser of the Andaman Islands. Sekhsaria delves into this transition, noting the series of events that were set in motion post-Independence. While the entire nation dreamt the Nehruvian dream of industrialisation, the fragile Andaman and Nicobar islands bore the brunt of these dreams.
Over time, with efforts from activists and conservationists, the destruction of the islands was brought to the fore. Despite numerous Supreme Court rulings, including the landmark judgment of 2007 that ordered a complete shutdown of the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) and placed restrictions on sand mining and timber import, very little has changed. The ATR runs through the heart of Jarawa forests, and poses a grave threat to the survival of the Jarawa tribal community. However, even as of 2016, the order for the closure of ATR, despite receiving global support, has not been implemented.
Sekhsaria captures this situation by alluding to the maxim: The Supreme Court proposes and the local administration disposes. As he takes the readers through these developments, tropes of duality such as that of the native and the outsider, and progress versus environmental sustainability are explored.
Sekhsaria’s harrowing account of these islands raises the question of shared guilt of intrusion. Isn’t the history of all modern civilisation tainted with the culling and taming of great forests and innumerable tribal communities?
The title Islands in Flux is congruous with the shifting ideologies, policies and ecological changes that have ravaged the islands. Caught amidst these shifts, readers will find themselves questioning the national conscience along with their own.
Reviewed by Anadya Singh
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVII, No. 6, June 2017.