ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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'Outsider, We Love and Fear You'

Dialogue with the Nicobarese

The Nicobarese are not against "outsiders" and have a long tradition of embracing different cultures. They respect religious heterogeneity and even though the Hindu population in Kamorta and Katchal is small, there are numerous Hindu temples around, to which the Nicobarese have never objected. Their opposition to marriage alliances with outsiders is not religiously motivated but provoked by the undue advantage that the non-Nicobarese have taken by encroaching on their land and also disrupting the hitherto harmonious socio-economic dynamics. A response to Swapan K Biswas's article "Interreligious Marriage in Nicobar Islands: Opportunities and Challenges" (EPW, 30 May 2015).

The author acknowledges the guidance received from S Parasuraman.

In his article, “Interreligious Marriage in Nicobar Islands: Opportunities and Challenges” (EPW, 30 May 2015), Swapan K Biswas touched upon a sensitive issue and aptly argued that conversions and interfaith marriages were common among the Nicobarese. Of late, the tribal leadership of Nancowry has opposed out-group marriage alliances for which the author gave two reasons: the power tussle between the Muslim and Christian Nicobarese and reservation politics.

The precipitating factors for opposing marriages with outsiders, which the author has entirely missed, are intricately linked with a gradual shift in the outsider’s identity—from a munificent patron of the community to a menacing agent. Since the issue is critical and the Nicobarese secular identity is at stake, it needs to be analysed in the context of larger sociocultural and economic dynamics that have recently compounded the situation in Nancowry.

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