Thank you, but that was no help

A year after the tsunami struck, there is very little that the administration has understood about tribal culture, finds M Tewari.

india Updated: Dec 24, 2005 18:34 IST

A year after the tsunami struck, there is very little that the administration has understood about tribal lifestyle and culture. Result: sanitary napkins being used as pillows, milk powder being thrown away and saris that the tribals just won’t wear.

In the post-tsunami days, the Government and NGOs from all over the world distributed thousands of packets of sanitary napkins to Nicobarese tribal women — all in vain.

“Nicobari women do not use sanitary napkins,” says Sameer Acharya, secretary, Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology. “When thousands of packets were reaching them, they didn't know what to do. Since there was a water problem immediately after the tsunami, some intelligent tribal suggested that the napkins could be used as toilet paper. With the supply of sanitary napkins continuing all through the year, the men decided it was a great material to make pillows.”

Stories of misplaced relief priorities abound across all the islands — of the Government and the NGOs ignoring local sensibilities and requirements; of people having no choice but to refuse the relief material.

Take milk. The Nicobari tribal population has no history of drinking milk.

They have no milch cattle and their children do not drink milk. They, therefore, have no use for the cartons of milk powder that keep arriving as relief material.

Chetan Sanghi, commissioner, relief and rehabilitation, Andaman and Nicobar, however, says, "Things like these always happen. There's no need to blow them out of proportion."

The Government also sent saris. Not one was used. "The women wear something similar to a lungi and sarong," says a Government official. "Traditionally, they procure thin, cotton wraparounds from Thai and Burmese sea poachers who've a traditional economic link with the tribes. Obviously, they had no use for the saris, since they were a lot thicker and quite large in size."

Acharya says no one asked the tribals what they needed. "The Government simply threw things at them."

First Published: Dec 20, 2005 03:11 IST