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Rethinking Development and Environment in North Andaman

Many Environments

An ethnographic analysis of the interconnectedness of labour and landscape in North Andaman reveals a distinct discourse on the environment among the descendants of settlers there. They acknowledge that the labour of their ancestors created the landscape they inhabit. Yet, this entanglement of labour and nature seems irrelevant to their current understanding of the environment. This shift in discourse mirrors development and conservation expertise that imagines the environment of the Andaman Islands as devoid of labour. Unpacking the discursive, environmental and material circumstances in which the descendants of settlers produce their lives, allows us an insight into the widespread legitimacy accorded to the state to remake nature in the Andaman Islands today.

The Andaman Islands (“Islands,” hereafter) in the Bay of Bengal are a largely forested and partly agrarian landscape, with a biodiverse ecosystem. The Islands are usually characterised either as a penal colony, or a tropical getaway or as the location of indigenous peoples. Less commonly known is the fact that society on the Islands is a complex mix of ethnicities (Zehmisch 2017). Along with a few hundred indigenous inhabitants,1 the Islands are home to more than 3,40,000 people (Directorate of Census Operations, Andaman and Nicobar Islands 2014), who are migrants or descendants of migrants from the Indian subcontinent.2

The Islands are currently being promoted as “an upmarket island destination” for tourists (NITI Aayog 2018: 18). North Andaman, the location of this study, is set to get an airport. Smith Island, just across the bay from Diglipur, is expected to become a major tourist hub.3 Apart from roads and airports, policy documents claim that jobs, healthcare, education, power supply and data connectivity will ultimately result from the growth of tourism (Kant 2019). Public opinion in North Andaman on these developments, however, is varied. It ranges from disinterest in employment in the tourism industry because it is insecure and seasonal, to expectations of phenomenal profits to be made through land deals. The potentially significant
environmental implications of these state schemes are not of concern in local political discourse.4

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Updated On : 16th Sep, 2019

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