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Andaman and Nicobar under Lockdown: An Indefensible Defense State

Image source -PTI

Europe is indefensible. Apparently that is what the American strategists are whispering to each other.

-Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism

The treatise by Cesaire applies perfectly even in the present to Europe and also the countries it has colonized. However, America, for all its global intelligence agencies and the President’s recent meeting with Trump must also not be left behind. In fact, at the time of writing, you might even find medicines flowing towards the power centre of the empire, which is now no longer European. All countries have waged a war on Corona virus, or the menace of COVID-19, the latter sounding like a dirty bomb deployed by an evil super-villain. Most likely because the evil villains of the world, sitting at the seats of power feel threatened by this new act of nature, which might not be all that natural. But since when has humanity actually cared about nature, unless when caring for it is but a mere reflection of self-care or selfish care in the romantic pursuit of forbidden passions and deep explorations to further conquests.

Many such conquests, military, economic and political, have ravaged entire populations, such as the Onge and the Jarawa, rendering them extinct off this planet and subsequently naming army detachments and outpost, INS Jarawa or Onge Basti, in a faithful and nostalgic re-imagination of the past. Therein lies the history of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in two sentences, of people living in scattered territory caught between state and military power, imagined space and inhabited territory, like lagoons between islands and reefs. The islands are no stranger to fascism, and empty bunkers along the major beaches built by the Japanese called to aid and assist in the fight against the British and liberate the territory from colonial occupation still haunts the tropical landscape.

Presently what is more haunting is the sight of Veer Savarkar airport, partly civilian partly defense but completely deserted under the threat of any incoming cases of the bio bombshells and Jamati fidayeens. Keeping true to the nationalist sentiment which has caught the fervor of millions in the nation and other countries with eyes full of hope as they are feverishly glued to the television sets, there is nothing much to be one but follow the state policy of isolation.

Not much of consequence though, for the people of Andaman, who have chosen as their site of sustenance, the most isolated landmass which is just a maritime bridge between South and Southeast Asia, and has no further resources but the coastline and tropical rainforests. Sixteen cases of viral infections have been discovered so far and the number has not risen. Seems calm and quiet on the surface but gets sadder and sinister once the narrative delves deeper into the lives of islanders and settlers. Being in such a strategic position as the naval outpost of India in particular and the Indian subcontinent in general, much armed forces activity and population flow is seen right from the Navy to Army and Coast Guard, not to forget the Air Force which has generously extended the airstrip for civilian passenger ships but has more bases in Little Andaman.

The entire stretch of the area of numerous islands stretching across the Bay of Bengal are divided into three districts for civil administration, but the islanders know it simply as the administration, i.e. North and Middle, South and Nicobar districts, each deputed by a district commissioner. The structure of civil administration has also remained unchanged largely, in structure and function even though intellectuals herald the transition of the era from colonial to post-colonial period in time. In Andaman, you can feel the time move differently because it is much closer to the tropic than the rest of India, the sun sets by five in the evening and seven is usually the night when working people come home to their families.

Of course now, they never leave their families because the local Andaman and Nicobar police is always on the prowl and comes down hard on anyone found gathering even essential items without a mask. They no longer need a reason, with the power vested upon them by the NSA. It is also happening at a time when activists are sent to jail charged with UAPA and other draconian measures upon those who were providing relief to those afflicting in the North East Delhi terror attacks where houses were burnt, shops were razed and communities were ravaged.

Meanwhile the defense colonies of Minnie Bay, Haddo, Brichgunj and other areas outside the capital of Port Blair remain sealed off as usual. Their life, much like the Sentinels, another isolated tribal community, is always behind the security lines drawn by the military police and under their exclusive jurisdiction. So far, no attempt at any sort of aid has been received or given between the defense personnel and the civilians. Mind you these personnel are also highly segregated amongst themselves based on ranks and whether they are posted as routine or detail. The lieutenant governor, along with the rest of the administration, is appointed by the central government and the latter is in charge of their functioning and maintaining order, but unlike the administration the lieutenant governor or as the islanders know him, the LG is also accountable for and to the armed forces occupying their various stations. The district commissioners are responsible for and to the civilian population of the islands.

The plight of the local population, in such a situation is immense, and the pandemic outbreak has only added to the list of woes. Due to an ill-developed and outlandish administration, no civil works has been undertaken to provide proper employment and education to the youth, and so they remain largely unemployed and dependent on informal economy. The public works department is also not much looked after by the central administration which has resulted in lack of waterworks, and proper supply of sanitary water, which is again looked after by the committees at the municipal level. The municipal committees, again isolated from the central government administration, since before the policy of isolation was implemented to combat the infection, has only a freshwater dam as a source of water and one power grid as a source of electricity for almost all districts, with the exception of Nicobar, and some other towns which have made use of alternative resources.

Most of the products that are consumed by the island population is mostly brought in from outside with the exception of some vegetables grown in areas such as Neil Islands and Hut Bay. With the flow of resources in the hands of the administration, what was already a lack of supply in shops of a variety of goods, has now become a case of acute scarcity and complete dependency upon distribution channels of the administration, much substance abuse of a drug-addled junkie on heroin or cocaine. In that strain the administration, under the leadership of the commissioner is quick to play the smart dope man and raise the prices for goods delivered by them, which include only a narrow supply of vegetables, medicines and savory snacks charging extra for delivery. This is the practice of the central administration in Andaman and Nicobar Islands when the central government in Delhi and its home ministry has announced strict action against anyone who indulges in the malpractice of black marketing.

It would be interesting to see if the reports made on government officials responsible for black marketing such as the district collector of South Andaman would be considered a malpractice subject to punishable offense. To quell the discontent caused by the discomfort of the locals who could easily move around separately following social distance due to the profuse presence of alleyways and gullies and local knowledge about it, the local police is deployed which consists mostly of islanders with that local knowledge. Again, echoing the point earlier made, the past in inextricable from the present in a colonial occupation with a concerted effort to divide local sections of society and pit them against one another.

Nonetheless all the islanders are subject to extremities of weather such as humid sultry afternoons, cockroaches, frogs, centipedes, toads and other crawling or flying insects coming out of every crevice, and the daily dose of power cuts due to electricity shortage. Although some are well-endowed enough to have more comfortable cement homes with air-conditioners, inverters to back up electricity and private staff for sanitation, which is a great section of government employees. Most people who are shopkeepers, fishers, daily wage earners and domestic workers live in wooden houses with tin roofs of more archaic condition constructed when wood was still lowed for construction of houses and cement was not in fashion.

In an entertaining gesture, the Member of Parliament from the islands belonging to the Congress has made most of the channels which were previously locked in dish cables to all citizens regardless of their recharge plans. This in no way helps the school and college students who are sitting and watching television instead of attending classes. They cannot attend classes online because the internet is a novelty which is provided only by BSNL which has such low speed that a web page takes five to ten minute to open, let alone video conferencing.

Any student worth their salt in the field of social anthropology and medical anthropology will be able to tell you that there is a certain reason why medical aid or clinical assistance is called healthcare. What is now abound with the language prevalent even by dignified statesmen in the seats of power referred to earlier, as a war, a combat, a conflict without giving proper consideration to the dubious factors of its origin and the fact that its contagiousness acts as a social stigma much like AIDS. Like AIDS, it is also an auto-immune disease, and like AIDS which was initially reported locally, in parts of London, and later South Africa when it was colonized, and only through propagation and subsequent propaganda by bodies such as the UN or WHO did it become a worldwide stigmatized disease to be feared.

The blocked and broken chains of interaction and social intercourse in defense of a new pathology regarding immunity without any body of work in the actual clinical field creates a new pathological normal through isolation of immunized states and identities in fields of location with due consideration to the “crisis of an allergic reaction to global contamination”, in the words of Roberto Esposito. To put it simply, communal sections of society have to be normalized in their individuality in the order of globalization so as not to disturb the normalcy in socio-economic processes of society which are driven by shock doctrines of “disaster capitalism” to borrow Naomi Klein’s phraseology, in going from one crisis to another, tackled in utter stupidity by national as well as international bodies of governance and power structures. Thus, its local implication in the capital city of Port Blair remains that the chaotic market of the people thrives by making interpersonal connections and channels of circulation.

The result is the accumulation of wealth in government funds in the name of providing relief for immunization measures to provide medical care, a phrase seldom used at the present time, in lieutenant governor’s deposit account, while its dispensation remains a dubious question. At the ground level, this is giving rise to networks of individuals possessing cultural capital and power to dispense resources on their own via NGOs and organizations in their full opportunistic élan an corrupt zeal to show themselves as the only ones working when clearly they are the only ones capable enough while others face brutal repression even to gather essentials for their bare survival.

The show of power and pomp alongside the levity and rationale of following protocols is one gain barbaric and savage to selectively identify an recognize cases of viral spread of infection while no attempt is made to restore normalcy by mediating the content spread through social networking that reproduce same pre-existing patterns in which the infection spreads to begin with. For instance, if the virus has spread allegedly through diet patterns, how is it that protocols as simple as washing hands were not followed? It is simply a fear of war on a direct actual level that is feared, regionally, nationally and internationally with growing social unrests in Latin America, China, and India of humongous proportions foretelling doom in the disorientation of the power of war-mongering forces in the effective struggles of the people.

To diffuse this people’s war, as was mobilized allegedly by the Islamists and the ayatollahs of Indian media, to break the unity not just of Muslim brotherhood but of the larger fight for liberal values becoming unfavorable even to liberals but largely indispensable for the people as the constituting fundamental ethos of society indiscriminately across the globe. This recognition of a universal fighting spirit of the people is identified by the powerful forces of the state and used against the infection which has sadly claimed many lives, and therefore the onus is now upon the WHO medical community and the ICMR nationally to colonize the people with the help of the state in the name of the virus. This colonization, again driven by imperialist interest does not monopolize resources, although it cannot be said about the American empire still set in the old ways. The new way forward seems to be sacrifice, returning again to the pharmacology of the value of experience between death and life with without or without live bodies in the age of statistics and data.

Of course there is room for Russian roulette wheel of politics, where the function of general will, which according to Rousseau was an abstract ephemeral quality and not some statistic, like the Condorcet paradox, arises through a pharmacological treatment of various ethnicities an social differences for biogenetic data and eugenics practice which will have to be thoroughly resisted, even if it comes in the form of state sanctioned immunizations. To enter into this matrix, taking shots instead of pills, setting the precedent of figuration of oppression at large and its exponential increase due to the lockdown must be experienced trans-individually, transforming individual existence in a field of collective and common experience transcending the logic of immuno-deficient pathology of colonizing ritual enacted through dress rehearsals of quarantines and isolations and resisting colonialism nationally and transnational by claiming collective solidarity.

The other way is the resignation to the doctrine of bodies and composition to which the state and institution of sovereign power, and can stereotypically deride pre-existing or natural states of well being by an official sanction of widespread infection and meritorious qualities of fitness that have to be medically evaluated. This brings out the other side of colonialism of the British such as Corbyn and Homfray, as noted by Satadru Sen in the medical experiments upon the colonized “savages”:

The medical campaign against the Andamanese was an effort by the colonial state to extend its political authority at several connected levels. At one, military-style expeditions to capture and detain sick aborigines provided a self-legitimizing method of taking the power of the colony into the jungle and enclosing manageable areas of the jungle within the clearing. At another, compulsory medical treatment forced the Andamanese to acknowledge the authority of the regime. This acknowledgment should not be confused with acceptance of the ideological claims of modern medicine; there was no hegemonic state medicine in India (including the Andamans) in the late nineteenth century.

Medicine in the Andamans served to legitimize police action not to the Andamanese, but to the colonial authorities. It was enough that the Andamanese could read medicine as a shorthand for the regime’s claims of sovereignty in the clearing and to some extent in the jungle. At a third level, the new medical posture of aborigines as patients altered the content of their savagery, and the relationship between the savage and the doctor. Patient-savages were no longer expected to cultivate crops, but they were, more than ever, protégés of the doctor and the state, who assessed their ‘condition,’ organized the terms of quarantine and convalescence, and stood watch at the bedside.

It would be a dystopian future, if it is not already so, if a revision of our rationality is challenged on physical practices of sanitation therefore constructing new states of sanity and reshaping the imagined communities in the same totalitarian tact and obedience with which, even in the postcolonial epoch, populations subsume social practice according to the dictation of institutional power which comes directly from the colonial characteristic of all nations and their impetus in moving from cultural engineering to bio-cultural administration and equanimity. While grieving the deaths due to the virus, it must be ensured that the living does not voluntarily under military compulsion or police action submit to a regime of self-genocide of entire communities.

Mohammed Kamran is a research scholar and a student of Theatre and Performance Studies, School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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