Indian Ocean tsunami: India – Tsunami kills thousands of ‘benami’ or people without names

Tsu-nah-mee means ‘harbour waves’ in Japanese. The monumental tidal wave which hit the countries on the Indian Ocean on December 26, has taken more than 150,000 lives. It has left millions who survived with their lives devastated for decades to come. The worst hit parts of India were Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.


Tsunami kills thousands of ‘benami’ or people without names

India saw more than 10,000 killed as the tidal wave pounded southern fishing villages. Thousands are still missing. In Andhra Pradesh alone, 400 fishermen were missing immediately after the first strikes. The Hindu, the Newspaper published from southern India, covered the heart-breaking devastation extensively. The following are a few stories of this saga of grief.

  • Forty children-playing cricket on a beach in Cuddalore drowned when a massive wave pulled them out to sea. One local man, who lost two sons playing on the beach, said: "I suddenly saw waves 30 to 40ft high. People just froze, they didn’t know what to do".
  • As the Coast Guard helicopter number 814 hovers off the Chennai coast, the extent of the devastation begins to sink in – overturned catamarans, sinking fishing boats, two merchant ships crashed into each other in the middle of the port, rendering it unusable, floating planks, plastic containers stuffed with food materials, wooden boxes, fishing nets …
  • The Royapuram fishing harbour is left with just over a hundred fishing boats in place of thousands.
  •  The fragments of many boats float north of the harbour even as scores of boats were rendered useless after the tsunami lifted them off their moorings and threw them against – ironically – the protective sea wall that spans from Kasimedu to Ennore. Struck after five hours

The earthquake hit the Indian mainland coast five hours after it struck Sumatra. M. Kausalya in charge of the Seismic Observatory at the National Geographical Research Institute (NGRI) here in Hyderabad, said the quake traveled at a speed of five kilometers per second. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands experienced the maximum shocks, as they were situated 500 km away from the epicentre of the quake in Sumatra. Sumatra is around 2,500 km from the Indian coast. Almost the entire east coast of India was affected, though the worst hit were the southern parts.

The epic devastation in India caused by the past earthquakes of Bhuj and Latur remain etched in the country’s collective consciousness. But nature’s ferocity in the form of the tsunami is such a rare phenomenon in the South Asian region that unsuspecting people were completely unprepared for what happened on 26 December.

The tsunami is a giant sea wave that results from displacements caused by large earthquakes, major sub-oceanic slides, or exploding volcanic islands. It is a phenomenon usually associated with the Pacific. But India has experienced such a phenomenon at least twice in the relatively recent past – in 1881 and 1941.

Even for a country with a recorded toll of over a hundred thousand fatalities in earthquakes in the past two centuries and a long history of cyclonic havoc, the tsunami of 2004 will go down as an unprecedented display of nature’s cruelty. The 2001 earthquake in Bhuj challenged the capacity of the Indian ruling classes to handle emergencies on a gigantic scale. But history has repeated itself as a farce. The stories of bureaucratic bungling are unfolding as the days are going by.

A simple warning system, available through modern communications – a public address system – would have mitigated the situation. As succinctly put by Jon Dale in the article already published on, a simple warning system would have saved thousands of lives in all of these poverty-stricken countries. But it is clear that the capitalist governments of the region have failed miserably in protecting their people.

The most remarkable example, perhaps, is the story of Nallavadu, a village in Tamil Nadu. Vijayakumar, a youth who now works in Singapore, saw the tsunami warning there. He immediately phoned the village information centre, setting off an instant reaction. A warning was repeatedly announced over the public address system and a siren set off. As a result, the tsunami claimed no victims there, but others in nearby villages were forced to become the victims of a so-called "act of god".

It is criminal on the part of the Indian government, not to be a member of the The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC). This would have warned the devastated people at least four hours in advance. The successive BJP and Congress governments are trying their best to make India a permanent member in the UN Security Council, which is nothing but a macho posture. But they have not been concerned to give protection to their people from natural disasters.

The Politics of relief

The internationalism of the working people all over the world is demonstrated in a fantastic manner. The way in which the ordinary people are responding to the appeals for aid and relief is unprecedented. In contrast the ruling elite of the advanced capitalist countries have proved to be extremely "stingy".

It is time that we move to make demands on the imperialist countries to write off all the debt owed by the poor countries. In turn we also make the demand on the local capitalist governments to waive repayment of all the loans given to its people.

There must be democratic control over distribution of the relief and aid. It has to be controlled and supervised by elected representatives of the trade unions, fishermen’s organisations and poor peasants in a democratic accountable way.

No tax on the poor in the name of relief schemes; make the rich pay!

There should not be any discrimination in relief distribution on the ground of class, nationality, religion, caste, gender or political ties.

Massive public work programmes should be taken up, employing unemployed youth and peasants and fishermen. Cut out the contractors from public works.

We demand seismic oceanography sensors and all other related technological aids to protect all the countries and peoples on the planet who need them.

The avoidable scale of the death and destruction of the Bhuj earthquake in Gujarat, India in 2001 and the 2004 tsunami disaster of continental proportions are a warning about the horrific consequences of poverty and neglect in countries exploited by capitalism and imperialism. They must act as a wake-up call to all fighting socialists to intensify their struggle against capitalism and imperialism to get rid if them. In this way, technology and science can be freed from their clutches. It can then be utilised for the good of all human beings and, not unimportant for the future of mankind, also of all the flora and fauna of the world.

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January 2005