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Title: Experience of the Tsunami -Affected Nicobarese Tribe
Authors: Meshack, Anshu
Keywords: School of Social Sciences
Janaki Andharia
Issue Date: 2006
Abstract: The present study, based on the Nicobarese tribes living in the Central Nicobar Islands, explores the manner in which the tsunami of December 26, 2004 affected the lives of the survivors, and how the recovery mechanisms, four nnonths later, took forms that required them to cope further with the unfamiliar mechanisms and ways of the government, the non-trihals and outsiders who arrived from different parts of the world with humanitarian aid and expertise. These islands and communities, so far assigned an obscure place on the world map, suddenly became the focus of global attention. In the aftermath of the disaster, the voice of the indigenous people was drowned in the cacophony of `technical experts' who rapidly drew up plans; and bureaucrats who promptly announced relief and rehabilitation packages, including large cash dole-outs. The study highlights the nature of the subsistence economies of these islands that has, for centuries, sustained without much damage to the fragile ecological balance. The traditional wisdom of the tribals, patronizingly labeled `primitive' by the `civilized world', in fact provides glimpses of a truly democratic and just society where people recognize no differentiation based on caste, class or gender — attributes that have become the bane of our `modern societies. The study explores, through the narratives of the tribals, how disaster rehabilitation is experienced and locates these in the infrastructural challenges faced due to the destruction. It captures the way community dynamics unfold which, in some way, destabilizes the traditional norms based on cooperation and cohesion; and their relationship with nature. The assimilation of non-tribals into these communities has resulted in relationships that are more pronounced — and exploitative — with the artificial' influx of cash and other resources. The thesis argues for reduction of vulnerabilities of the communities in lieu of standard poverty-alleviation programmes that are inappropriate and therefore, ineffective. The community dynamics can best be addressed by, on the one hand, greater sensitivity to the indigenous systems of the tribals and on the other, building the capacities of the communities to negotiate these accelerated changes and determine their development trajectory, perhaps with a greater degree of consciousness-and, thereby, their future.
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