The Tsunami and Its Aftermath: Resilience and Rupture of the Social Fabric Among the Nicobarese
The Indian Ocean Tsunami that hit the coastal belt and island territories of several countries on 26th December 2004 had a devastating impact on the inhabitants of the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The ancient communities of the indigenous Nicobarese who inhabit the small and flat islands of the Nicobar group were perhaps the worst affected. They not only lost a larger proportion of their population than any other affected community, they also had to contend with the near complete obliteration of their cultural heritage. Before the tsunami, the Nicobarese were a good example of a cohesive, resource rich, pre-agricultural community, which, aided by a protective State policy, had managed to preserve its cultural identity by successfully negotiating the direction and pace of social change. However, today there are several challenges and dilemmas which confront this indigenous population. These arise not only out of the nature of ‘loss’ and ‘displacement’ suffered by the Nicobarese, due to the tsunami disaster, but also as a consequence of a whole gamut of ‘relief’ and ‘rehabilitation’ interventions launched by the State and non-State players. The community’s political organization, its social institutions of family and kinship, and the whole network of social relations which regulated economic activity and resource exploitation have been subjected to enormous stress and pressures. The disaster has also led to the resurfacing of issues related to land rights and entitlements. This chapter seeks to explore the issues related to the ‘loss’ and ‘displacement’—territorial, habitat, psychosocial, economic, political, and cultural—suffered by the Nicobarese on Katchal island and the strategies adopted by them in coping with this unprecedented situation. It also examines the impact—ideological, economic, and social—of the external interventions and the extent of resilience/transformation of traditional institutions in this context. In the light of this experience, the chapter attempts to outline policy issues and concerns which need to be addressed for ensuring a smooth post-disaster transition of remotely located, small, protected communities into the world of modern capitalist development.
KeywordsNicobarese Disaster management Relief Rehabilitation Aid
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