- Jonathan Lawley PhD

With my daughter Juliet I was visiting the Andaman Islands where 100 years ago my grandfather Reginald Lowis had risen to Deputy Commissioner and Acting Commissioner in what was then an Indian penal colony.  He had met and married Bessie Coldstream the young niece of the head of the British Military there George Anson and my mother and both her sisters and a brother had been born on Ross Island where the senior British administrators and military lived across the bay from the capital Port Blair.

The visit was part of my researches for a book on my family’s role in India during the days of the Raj.  My mother told me about an extraordinary childhood on the islands and I still had a series of articles written by her mother about life there. I was particularly interested in their stories of occasional contact with the aboriginal Andaman islanders who for centures had avoided all contact with outsiders and had even killed the survivors of shipwrecks with their tribal arrows. Yet mother’s memories were of the warmest embraces from negrito tribes people and my aunt remembered races with small Andaman children on the backs of turtles.

From the start of British involvement in the islands, the tribes had all been particularly vulnerable to imported diseases such as measles, so often followed as I learned in Africa by deadly pneumonia, against which they had no immunity and their numbers had fallen steadily and in the case of some, dramatically.  At that time nobody knew whence these tribes had come.  Their appearance was clearly African and their stature suggested pygmy origins.  Quite clearly there was no trace of the blood of races inhabiting neighbouring landmasses in their appearance.  So how and when had they got to the islands? Though grandfather’s generation speculated on African origins there was no evidence. Now DNA from hair collected in the 1920s confirms the direct African link going back 40 – 60,000 years to the very oldest human beings who set off eastwards across what is now Arabia.

In Grandfather’s day British policy was broadly to leave the tribes alone though relationships of a sort had been established with the Great Andamanese the so called friendly tribes inhabiting the main landmasses of Middle Andaman and North Andaman for trade in local products such as tortoise shell and trepang. There was no contact at all with the two so called unfriendly tribes, the Jarawa and the Onge.  Living in the area bordering the convict settlement the Jarawa from earliest times had regularly killed convicts and their guards.  Punitive expeditions had been organised but these were largely ineffective and as the tribesmen merely melted into the uniformly thick forest on the approach of soldiers or police.

Meanwhile far sighted British policy to help convicts to fulfil themselves through the development of skills of all sorts and allowing them to marry female convicts helped develop the economy and the population grew.  In WW2 the islands were occupied by the Japanese who though they executed many local settlers did not attempt to interfere with the tribes. After the war and Indian independence Indian ex-service personnel settled in the islands and there were settlers from places like Burma and Bangladesh.  From less than 20,000 in grandfather’s day (including the military and convicts) the population has grown to about 150,000.  Two thirds are Hindus and the rest divided evenly between Christians and Muslims.  It is a diverse and vibrant population happy with its diversity and according to our faithful Muslim taxi driver proud to be Indian.

We enjoyed the diversity and the friendliness and ourspotless modern hotel in Port Blair with superb views of the sea and of neighbouring islands.  After four days of meetings including with the governor, a modern air-conditioned passenger catamaran took us on a two hour voyage to Havelock Island where for the last two days of our visit we had a taste of the real wild Andamans.  Our hotel was set in virtually impenetrable forest with a path leading us 200 yards under the biggest trees I have ever seen down to a beach of coral sand famed worldwide for its beauty.

What brings in the tourists?  I got the impression that the government and local authorities would like the main attractions to be the sea, sand and local beauty combined with the island’s history of supposed suppression under the Raj?  Sadly on Ross Island the old government house, the Anglian Church and the little hospital where mother was born were destroyed by the earthquake in 1941 and are unattractive ruins. Part of the Cellular Jail built first to accommodate mutineers after the Indian Mutiny after the establishment of the penal colony in 1858 has been well preserved. It was evidently a very tough place and in the early days 150 men with no hope of release escaped and all perished at the hands of the tribes.  By the 1900 the convicts were of a different type, mostly murderers and others male and female convicted on the mainland of serious crimes , most of whom went on to build the new Andamans. Their descendants, many of whom we met, are justifiably proud of their ancestors.

The main attraction for the tourists overwhelmingly mainland Indians, is the tribes.  They have been given the chance of seeing tribes people thanks to the Andaman Trunk Road part of which runs through tribal territory. It was built in the 1990’s when several construction workers were killed by tribal arrows. The Indian Supreme court ordered its closure in 2002.  However thanks no doubt to promises that the welfare of the tribes through whose territory the north south road passes would be top priority, the road remains open and daily up to a hundred or more, government buses filled with tourists leave Port Blair and race north to the border with tribal territory to lead the queue.  There are many informed and influential Andamanese who see these journeys as offensive and humiliating for the tribes and liken them to wildlife safaris.  Some international organisations don’t like them either.  The authorities are understandably sensitive about what is happening.  It tries to prevent malign influences through strict policing of the convoys by banning photography.

The tribe affected is the erstwhile ‘unfriendly’ Jarawa some of whom are, according to a couple of tourists we met on Ross Island, to be seen on the road looking for handouts if not from passengers, from bus drivers. Such contact is leading to increased dependency and to possible extinction.

Meanwhile the principal future pressures are likely to involve the so called settler community which wants more land, the tourist industry which is becoming aware of the Andamans for its world class tourist potential and the Andamanese aboriginals and those who speak up for them.

Though the Indian Supreme order on the closure of the Andaman Trunk Road has not been complied with the government remains committed to protecting the tribes and is backed by local administrators and by influential settlers including members of the influential Locally Born Society who remain determined to be positive. This gives some hope for the future but is there sufficient awareness of what the tribes have always been aware of – the deadly danger of which my grandfather warned over a century ago, so called “civilization”? So, real determination will be needed to safeguard the tribal reserve areas from further outside incursions and contacts.

Meanwhile it seems to me that the Indian government should try to put aside its understandable sensitivity over what it sees as outside interference and recognise legitimate deep worldwide interest in our earliest forebears and seek international cooperation in protecting them. We flew from Chennai to Port Blair over remote North Sentinel Island inhabited by untouched and still very hostile tribespeople. In my opinion it should be given immediate top level world heritage site status and all international help and support given to the Indian government to keep people away.

It was sad seeing my huge German-Shepherd dog, whimpering in pain. His ear had got infected, so with cotton swab, antiseptic cream and warm water inplastic mug, I slowly and laboriously started cleaning it, holding his head lovingly against me, before putting soothing medication, and adding a few drops of a pain killer! My dog looked up at me, he usually allows me to touch his wounds, and I imagined what he was asking me with those brown pleading eyes, “What are you doing master, what are you thinking off? Just cleaning my ear? Treating my wound, or what?”

I touched his beautiful, handsome head and whispered, “I’m thinking of a healed ear!”

Did I see a smile on my dog’s face as I gently caressed his huge head? Whatever it was, he stopped whimpering and allowed me to minister to him, as I gently applied the anesthetic balm and he continued to rest his head happily on my shoulder.

As I looked up from himthis morning I pondered on the imaginary conversation I’d just had. I thought of doctors or surgeons looking down in the operating theatre at their patients. What did they see themselves doing? Were they thinking of themselves, only cutting, slicing and surgically removing some infected part inside? Were they so fixed on the task, they’d forgotten why they were fixing?

Or the patient; did he or she as she was wheeled in, think fearfully of the surgery or happily of being fit and whole again?

What do you think of your morning workout?As a tiresome exertion, or do you see a physically fit future you in the mirror?

And as I pondered on such, and put my crude implements, I’d used for my dog, away, I thought of leaders of nations, as they started doing dramatic and drastic things; did they see a nation in turmoil or a people happily living with each other in peace? Does our Modi, see his policies of Hindutva, of one nation, one religion, really leaving the whole of India happy? Is his concentration too much on the surgery; his silences, his slicing election speeches,and less on the healing?

And then there’s Trump; isolating America, not with a surgical scalpel but with butcher’s knife, as he, leader of the most powerful country on earth,with the power to bring peace to the whole world,instead, with furrowed head, bends over his repulsive, revolting, rotten tweets!

My dog, walked away from me, and in his eyes, I saw gratefulness for what I’d done. He knew he was on his way to healing.Are we also sure of that as we look at all we and our leaders are doing?It’s time you and I raised our eyes and help raise theirs too, from surgical slicing and segmenting and separating, to simple,soothing healing..!

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“What’s happening?” I asked rushing into my friend’s home as I heard a deafening din, “Some catastrophe in the country?The anchor is screaming?”

“That’s what he does everyday!” shrugged my friend, “He calls people onto his show, then like an executioner, he bullies, batters and bludgeons them, and grinds them to pulp!”

“Why don’t they try and outshout him?” I asked, then realized as I watched, that the ordinary looking fellow, by raising the volume of his mike and lowering that of his panelists, made it appear they were mumbling and muttering while his words shouted vehemently and forcefully and obviously prepared well in advance towards a defined objective, was heard clearly by viewers, whereasthose uttered by panelists seemed like irritating interruptions to this man’s well-rehearsed speech!

Cunning and extremely clever, I must say!

Anybody who’s studied, ‘mob psychology’ knows any crowd can be incited to do reckless and murderous acts if whipped by loud rhetoric. This, I realized, is exactly what is shrewdly and subtly happening through this channel. It’s not just the shouting down of an invited panelist, but this chap’s clever veering of the talk towards a well- prepared hate agenda.

My daughter was a TV anchor for one of the biggest TV channels in the world, and since she insisted on me watching every one of sometimes three shows she anchored daily, and along with talks I had with her about anchoring, I do know something about the subject. An anchor’s job is not to tell. His is to let others tell, while he or she moderates and allows, yes allows everybody’s views to be heard. Not his, but those who have been invited. Anything less is not anchoring but openpropagating, nothing less!

And here, it looks like a propaganda machine is at work:And let me tell you, such talk and behavior would never have been tolerated in this country a few years ago, but now this man flourishes!

Lesser individuals, on flimsier grounds have been arrested inside our university campuses and elsewhere for inciting hate between communities, whereas here nothing is done, as like a crowd of Talibanists or ISISwatching an execution cheer the beheading of so called infidels, this man does the same as he openly with louder mike instead of sword, words instead of bullets, inflicts injuries, and goes for the kill with the baying of viewers who have come to watch another beheading of some ‘other’ who doesn’t belong to their religion, ideology, or political party.

This TV show is watched by men, women and also youngsters, who later like frenzied mob armed with same hate and hostility, help towards the polarization and division of our beloved country.

What needs to be done, is to have this harbinger of hate arrested and taken off the air. Anything less is meaningless and useless.

Start with refusing to join the mob, for the sake of the republic of India..!

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“Stop appeasing the minorities!” shout the majority in the country. Hearing these shouts, I decided to fairly and unbiasedly look into theirangry cry. I did and realized how better to think of the country then as one large family, with the government, Mother India, looking after it’s differently built and diversely equipped children.

Watch a mother with her brood, does she love all of them equally?

Yes, most mothers do. There are very few who play favourites, but, and here’s the big but, a good mother starts noticing strengths and weaknesses in her different children, then makes efforts to compensate for any of the weaknesses she sees in any of them: If one child is big built and the other through sickness or otherwise smaller, she sees the littler one, receives protection, especially as the two, play with each other or compete.

Why does she do that?

So that the smaller or lesser equipped child doesn’t feel unequal in the family setup!

The bigger fellow might or might not be a bully but by his sheer size could intimidate the smaller fellow, and the mother steps in.

Does the big fellow like it? Certainly not, and very often cries that favoritism runs in the family, but the mother knows it isn’t so, and all she is doing is keeping the balance so members can grow strong. She knows for the boys to grow without any psychological damage or baggage, she needs to build equality, using her common sense.

In the end, a weak son, sickly and thin grows to be a confident lad, and the other fellow who was already blessed with a good constitution remains strong, and as he grows older and has children realizes that what he had earlier called favoritism and what the majority in our country now call appeasement was necessary and is, for healthy growth.

What would happen if the mother did not protect the weaker son? He would grow up bullied by the stronger fellow, because the stronger lad, with all the natural urges of ‘survival of the fittest’ would unknowingly or unwittingly have bullied the minor sized fellow, making him insecure throughout his life, and the family would have failed him.

Giving a little extra help to the minority section of our communities helps build confidence, makes them feel loved and stops making them feel insecure about the sheer size of the majority. It’s like a mother saying, “My dear Minority, you may be smaller built son, but you’re family!”

Democracy, like family, should strive to bring a balance, bring equality, and so has to compensate in some measure to the smaller numbers of some of its society. Those smaller members don’t belong elsewhere, but to the family called India.

The majority may call it appeasement, just as a stronger son calls it favouritism, but a wise mother smiles, knowing she does a good job..!

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Many of my friends, a few who had left the country for greener pastures outside, were quite surprised to hear Kumaraswamy’s speech accusing the BJP leaders of trying to start horse trading in the state after the elections, “I didn’t know Karnataka was into horses,” said a friend from Kentucky, as he looked out of his window onto the paddock he owned and which I’d heard had some of the best prize horses in the world, “If I’d known I would have flown some of my best ones down before the elections. I’m sure mine would have given those the BJP are after, a run for their money!”

“The BJP need those horses urgently!” I exclaimed to my horse owning Kentucky friend, “They are allegedly offering 100 crores for the trade!”  

“Hundred crores for horse trading!” asked my friend incredulously, “Let me tell you my horses are better bred than what Modi or Amit Shah want!Can you call and tell them that? Mine are of pedigree stock, some have blue blood in their veins, some, their ancestry from Arabian forefathers! What kind of pedigree do these Karnataka horses have?”

“Basically fourth or fifth standard pass!” I said lamely, “Quite a few are drop outs!”

“There I told you! Mine are thoroughbreds, who can run a whole race, maintaining the same speed and length and giving huge returns to the owner!” whispered my friend urgently, “Please tell Modi that. Do you think those horses he is thinking of buying can last the whole race?”

“No!” I said, “Quite a few of them have already shown signs of giving up if offered the right incentives!Others may withdraw midway if offered more oats or if promoted to head horse or if offered a jockey position!”

“Exactly!” said my friend, “That’s what I’m trying to say, the BJP should stop buying those lame horses and look for others! Whose stables are they buying from?”

“Rahul’s and Gowda’s,” I whispered.

“They’re losers!” said my friend, “Nobody will bet on them!Rahul’s may have been good around 1947, but ever since then they’ve lost their goal and purpose, and who’s this Gowda?”

“His father was once prime minister of India!” I said.

“Never heard of him!” said my friend from Kentucky, “forgive me but quite a few of your PMs didn’t do much but sleep!”

“Yes I know!” I said sadly, remembering a picture of the same Gowda fast asleep.

“You tell Mr Modi not to waste his hundred crores on those horses!” said my friend urgently, “Tell him there’s better horses elsewhere, though as a horse breeder I’d advise him to rear them himself!”

“He tried!” I said quietly, “But he needs eight horses more!”

“Tell him not to horse-trade, “ whispered my friend, “Just be patient for another four years and breed his own horses..!”

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