M A I N   N E W S

Fate of Sikh ex-servicemen’s
families in Nicobar uncertain

Ramesh Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 29
The fate of 2,000-odd families of Sikh ex-servicemen from Punjab and Haryana, living in Campbell Bay, or Mini Punjab as it is popularly known, on the southernmost island of Nicobar is uncertain even as Navy and Coast Guard personnel continue rescue and relief operations.

Campbell Bay and Nicobar Island are the nearest points to Sumatra in Indonesia, which was the epicentre of the earthquake leading to the killer ocean waves or Tsunamis.

According to reports, Nicobar Island and Campbell Bay have suffered infrastructural damages with the water having entered the landing strip at Nicobar Island.

The Inspector General of Police of Nicobar, Mr S.B. Deol, told The Tribune over telephone from Port Blair that Punjabi settlers could be among the six casualties reported from Campbell Bay. An estimated 10000 people are dead, missing or seriously injured elsewhere.

“Campbell Bay is at an elevation and higher ground was available, so the casualty figure is low otherwise one in five persons in Nicobar and Little Andaman with an estimated population of 50,000 to 60,000 are feared dead,” Mr Deol said.

The Navy and the Coast Guard, he said, were extremely active in rescue and relief operations in the islands. Food packets were being dropped and the seriously injured taken aboard a ship for emergency medical attention.

Spread over a 1,500 square kilometer area, Campbell Bay is home to ex-servicemen who were settled there in the 1970s by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to protect the island from illegal poachers and to ostensibly maintain an Indian presence on the island.

The Chairman and Managing Director of the Delhi Transport and Tourism Development Corporation, Mr Ramesh Negi, who has served as a Deputy Commissioner in Nicobar, said that the Sikhs have become an inalienable part of the island’s history.

“The government wanted to settle people from the mainland in Campbell Bay to avoid any dispute over Indian territory and ex-servicemen were the obvious choice because they were trained soldiers...this would also serve to deter illegal poachers,” Mr Negi said.

Accordingly, the government gave 10 acres to every ex-serviceman who was settled in Campbell Bay and money to buy tractor and other equipment for agriculture. In a few years’ time, the farming folk had established a gurdwara on the island.

“It was like a mini Punjab... there were ex-servicemen from other states also but a majority of them were from Punjab and Haryana. They would celebrate Baisakhi and prepare Makke ki Roti and Sarson da Saag like they do in Punjab,” he recalled.

Besides, the Sikhs have held the posts of sarpanches of the two panchayats in Campbell Bay. Incidentally, the first person to establish contact with the Jarwa tribe inhabiting the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was also a Sikh.

“This Sikh gentleman who went by the name of Bakhtawar Singh had great relations with the Jarwas and could speak their language. For many years he was the only contact between the administration and the Jarawa tribe,” Mr Negi recalled.

The contribution of the Sikh women to the island’s development was no less. The official has fond memories of a Sikh lady, an assistant engineer (electrical), who would climb electric poles and repair faults like her male colleagues would do.

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