According to reports, Nicobar Island and Campbell Bay have suffered infrastructural damages with the water having entered the landing strip at Nicobar Island. An estimated 10000 people are dead, missing or seriously injured. The fate of approximately 2,000 families of Sikh ex-servicemen from Punjab and Haryana, living in Campbell Bay, or Mini Punjab as it is popularly known, on the southernmost island of Nicobar is uncertain even as Navy and Coast Guard personnel continue rescue and relief operations.
Spread over a 1,500 square kilometer area, Campbell Bay is home to ex-servicemen who were settled there in the 1970s by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to protect the island from illegal poachers and to ostensibly maintain an Indian presence on the island. Accordingly, the government gave 10 acres to every ex-serviceman who was settled in Campbell Bay and money to buy tractor and other equipment for agriculture. In a few years time, the farming folk had established a Gurdwara on the island.
In terms of the status of survival of tribes of these islands, The Times (UK) on 31st December reported that groups of rare aboriginal tribes already near the edge of extinction in the Andaman and Nicobar islands survived the massive tsunami (stated by the coast guard).
Five tribes numbering 989 people were safe after Sunday’s onslaught, including the 100-member Onge, 250 of the fiercely independent Sentinelese, 39 of the almost extinct Andamanese, 350 of the Jarawa and 250 of the hunter-gatherer Shompen. The origins of the endangered Andaman tribes, today only about 12 per cent of the overall population of some 350,000, still mystify anthropologists. Genetic evidence suggests the pygmy-like people with dark skin and tightly curled hair have lived on the Andamans for at least 60,000 years.They were located by helicopter and some were reached by boat and provided with supplies and medical treatment, director-general of the Coast Guard, Arun Kumar Singh, said.
Interestingly, the first person to establish contact with the Jarwa tribe inhabiting the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was a Sikh; Bakhtawar Singh had great relations with the Jarwas and could speak their language. For many years he was the only contact between the administration and the Jarawa tribe. The contribution of the Sikh women to the islands development was no less. An official has fond memories of a Sikh lady, an assistant engineer (electrical), who would climb electric poles and repair faults.
Let us all hope that many of the inhabitants of these islands made it to a higher elevation to avoid the turmoil the tsunami has brought.