| A memorial to those who perished at the Indian Air Force base in Car Nicobar. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Car Nicobar, Dec. 22: The tsunami devoured their homes and land, forcing them to shift elsewhere. Now, as the anniversary of the tragedy approaches, the badly bruised Nicobarese of Car Nicobar are again set to lose land.
The air force station at Carnic (as Car Nicobar is known locally) is revamping itself and has been eyeing a 160-acre area left of the runway to build a new colony for personnel. But the relocated Nicobarese, who grow coconut on that plot, are not prepared to give up any more land.
The Nicobarese, the island’s largest tribe, had taken the brunt of the disaster last year, losing more than 5,000 men, women and children. Their already dwindling population in Car Nicobar ' a 129-sq-km island about 278 km from Port Blair ' is now reduced to 13,000-15,000, according to rough estimates.
“We have lost everything. The sea is eating up our land with every passing day. If we give up this coconut plantation, too, to the air force, where shall we go and what will we eat'” said Herbert, echoing the thoughts of hundreds of his fellow Nicobarese.
The tribal council, a body of village elders, had earlier sanctioned the land for the air force, which is looking to set up the country’s most strategic airbase at Carnic. But now the council is saying “no”.
“The Nicobarese have lost so much and are in trauma; but we have offered the tribal council part of the land we were using till now as a trade-off for the 160 acres,” said Air Commodore Ravi Dhar.
“At the moment they seem reluctant, but they are a great people and they understand that the air force is there to protect them.”
The land the air force is offering the tribals is the plot where its earlier colony stood before being smashed to rubble by the killer waves on December 26 last year. Obiud Samuel, a Nicobarese from Malacca village, said this land was useless for agriculture and was not safe from the sea.
After their colony was destroyed, air force officers began staying in tents before moving to hurriedly constructed buildings.
“At the moment, this is an all-men base, but they need to get their families back. This can’t happen until the tribal council sanctions us the land,” said Group Captain P. Anup Kumar, the new station commander of the airbase. “But, of course, one must also spare a thought for the Nicobarese.”
The air force wants to build the new colony before the next monsoon.
The Nicobarese feel that even without the latest threat to their land, they are rather badly off. The authorities have relocated most of their 16 villages from the seaside to the interior of the island, which the tribals do not like.
“We yearn for the seaside and would rather die than stay here,” said Great Heart of Kakana village. “We are not used to living in such cramped surroundings.”
The tribals also miss the comfort of their old wooden huts. Their current homes, built of sheets of tin and other metals, are too hot for them.
“We can’t live in such conditions and have asked the authorities to give us wood,” Jane Rumel of Berka village said.
But with the tsunami having destroyed thousands of trees, there just isn’t enough wood.
“We shall have to get the wood from outside, which is not easy,” the station commander said. “The Nicobarese really have little choice.”