PORT BLAIR: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands recently hogged the limelight after a BJP Rajya Sabha MP demanded that Havelock Island be renamed. The MP argued that a place should not be named after someone who fought against Indian freedom fighters in 1857. (READ HERE)
But the local population—dependent on tourism—feels changing the name is definitely not the need of the hour. Can a name change really make a difference?
The genesis of the name
Havelock Island is named after Sir Henry Havelock, an English general who served in India starting late 1822 during the British administration. He was known for his role in the First Afghan War and later in the Indian mutiny of 1857. Havelock died the same year due to dysentery.
What's with his name?
BJP MP LA Ganesan raised the matter in the Rajya Sabha saying Havelock fought against Indians during the 1857 mutiny. He said a statue of the British officer stands at Trafalgar Square in London for his role in crushing the Indian revolt. Ganesan questioned the fact that even after 60 years of Independence, there is still an island named after such a person. “Can there be a greater insult than this to our patriots?” he asked.
What do people feel in the Andamans?
The demand for a name change has created ripples in the atoll. Various associations feel it will not only result in confusion about the names of various islands in the Andamans but will also hit the tourism industry—Havelock being the most sought-after tourist spot. Locals believe changing the name may not be a good idea at a time when the tourism industry is trying to gain traction. “Why is there a need to rename any island? The best solution is to put a signboard about the atrocities done by the British officers and let the whole world see. That will be a slap in their face,” said a senior historian of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands who didn't want to be quoted. Local residents argue places like the Cellular Jail in Port Blair do pay tribute to the freedom fighters of India and there is no further need to rename any islands.
Social media response
Social media users did not take the news well. “There are other burning issues which the government must look into instead of thinking about changing the name of prominent islands,” said Abhay Kumar, president of LOTE (Living on the Edge), a social group active in the Andamans. A Facebook user named Clint Pinto wrote: “Change everything, after all we are so insecure. Keep raising issues like this and wasting my taxes on trivial issues instead of debating how to improve our standard of living. How long are we gonna tolerate this? This is why we never progress and we continue to see a brain drain in this country.”
What does the tourism industry think?
The tourism industry in the islands is not happy with the renaming demand. According to many, such a name change may just about trigger a renaming spree. The islanders also feel changing the name of one island will not yield any result when there are several islands named after British personalities. In fact, all the islands belonging to the Ritchie’s archipelago like Havelock, Neil, Sir Hugh Rose, Sir William Peel, John Lawrence, Sir John Lawrence, Outram Island etc were named after British generals, civil servants, politicians. “We are already struggling to promote brand Andaman and islands like Havelock and Neil at the international level and a sudden change of name will create confusion. Instead of changing names, the government should focus on creating better facilities for tourists,” said M Vinod, the president of Andaman Association of Tourism Operators (AATO).
Who was Sir Henry Havelock?
Major General Sir Henry Havelock was a British general. He took part in the First Afghan war in 1839 and later was involved in the celebrated passage of the defiles of the Ghilzais. Years later, he was chosen to by the British to quell the Indian mutiny of 1857. Despite being outnumbered, Havelock marched northwards towards the Oudh—present-day Uttar Pradesh—taking on the rebel forces. He managed to capture Lucknow in September 1857. However the town was besieged by the arrival of a second rebel force with Havelock and his troops stuck inside the blockade. A few days post the lift of the blockade, Havelock died of dysentery.
What did he have to do with the Andamans?
Nothing! In fact, a memorial to him exists in Lucknow to commemorate his victory over the Indian mutineers in 1857. Havelock Island was named after the general as an acknowledgement to his exploits elsewhere.
He wasn't the only Havelock who served in India. His nephew Arthur Elibank Havelock, an engineer, built an iconic bridge over the Godavari at Rajahmundry, which stands to this day and is a tourist draw.
Havelock Island’s transformation
The island — once home to settlers from Bengal its partition — slowly attracted the world’s attention because of its beauty. Today, a good part of the island’s population is dependent on tourism. Many have transformed their land obtained from the government into guest houses while others sold it at astronomically high rates for the construction of hotels. Today, real estate prices on Havelock Island are sky-high.
Renaming vs ground reality
It is interesting to note that very few people in the island seem to care about Sir Henry Havelock or his legacy. There is not even a memorial of the British officer.
Other islands in named after Brits
All about Havelock Island
(Text source: www.andamans.gov.in)
How to reach?
Government ferries run by the Directorate of Shipping Services connect Phoenix Bay jetty, Port Blair to Havelock daily. Private luxury boats and coastal cruise ferry tourists to Havelock daily. Auto rickshaws, taxis, buses, motorbikes are available for transport within the island.
It lies on the south coast of Havelock Island—about 12 kilometers from the Island’s ferry pier. This beach is also rated as one of the best beaches in Asia by the TIME Magazine. It has an overall length of two kilometers and an average width of 30 to 40 meters. The sand is white and very fine in grain.
It is a long stretch of sand on the east coast of the Island, punctuated occasionally by rock section. Most of the beach is lined by mahua trees. These trees have lent a distinct character to the sea-front and provide shade, close to the water. Vijaynagar Beach is perfect for long walks along the sea.
This beach is another ideal site for snorkeling. It has a rich coral reef formation and amazing underwater marine life. One can reach Elephant beach by a small cruise boat from Havelock Jetty in about 40 minutes. By road, one can go up to the Forest Camp which is eight kms from the jetty towards Radhanagar side and from there by walk to the Elephant beach which will take another 40 minutes. Private ferry operators organise tours to Elephant beach from Havelock.
This beautiful silver sandy beach located 12 km from Havelock jetty is slowly gaining visitor-footfalls, though proper facilities are yet to be established.