The recent ‘reforms’ introduced in the Union Territory (UT) of Lakshadweep by the new Administrator Praful Khoda Patel has triggered widespread protests among the people of the island as well as outside. Patel, a BJP leader, was appointed as the Administrator of Lakshadweep on December 5, 2020, following the demise of his predecessor Dineshwar Sharma.
It is alleged that the reforms are being imposed with an intention to kill the culture and tradition of the people of Lakshadweep and crush the livelihood of the fishermen and farmers. Elemaram Karim of the CPI(M), a Rajya Sabha MP, has sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking that Patel, former Home Minister of Gujarat, be recalled from the UT with immediate effect.
Hibi Eaden, MP from Ernakulam, has also written to the Prime Minister, demanding immediate intervention in the matter.
In his letter, Karim has alleged that as soon as Patel took over, he rehauled the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which was in force in the island for preventing the spread of COVID. This unplanned and unscientific change of SOP caused a surge in COVID cases in the island, he said. Lakshadweep had made headlines during the first wave of COVID by keeping its cases at almost zero.
Followed a decision to impose a ban on cow slaughter in Lakshadweep, the new Administrator brought in a handful of reforms in line with this. In an order dated May 21, a copy of which was accessed by The Federal, the Lakshadweep administration has directed the closure of all the dairy farms in the UT with immediate effect, and the disposal of all the livestock via auctions.
According to the order, the auction process has to be completed before the 31st of this month and a compliance report has to be submitted.
In an earlier move, the administration excluded non-vegetarian food from the menu of the noon meal scheme in schools. It is also alleged that a huge number of casual and contract workers lost their employment due to the recent order to dismiss casual workers.
According to Karim, 190 casual workers who were employed in the Tourism Department lost their jobs. About 38 anganwadis were closed down, with resultant job losses. “About 90% of the people living in Lakshadweep are Muslims. There is a hidden agenda in all these drastic reforms hitting the life and culture of the people living on the island,” said VT Balram, former Congress MLA. In a Facebook post that has gone viral, Balram alleged that this is a deliberate attempt to convert Lakshadweep into a ‘Kashmir’.
The powers enjoyed by the district panchayats were curtailed and were taken over by the Administrator. Health, agriculture, fishing and livestock have also been brought under the Administrator.
The major source of livelihood of the people in the UT is fishing. “The temporary structures used by the fishermen for keeping their fishing equipment are demolished in the guise of the protection and preservation of the sea coast. Lakshadweep was a place where liquor was strongly discouraged as part of their culture and religious practices. In the guise of tourism development, the liquor policy was amended and licence granted for opening liquor shops in abundance. This is an insult to their culture,” said Balram.
Both the Congress and the Left leaders have voiced their concern over the newly imposed Goonda Act in the island. The political parties allege that this has been implemented with an intention to target those who protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
According to data provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Lakshadweep has generally seen a low crime rate. “The first thing done by the new Administrator was to remove all the posters against CAA. The Sangh Parivar is targeting Lakshadweep for being a place of Muslim majority,” said Balram.
Actors, writers, join in
Many film actors and writers also have called for the protection of the culture and livelihood of the people of Lakshadweep. Actor and producer Prithviraj Sukumaran has written a lengthy post on his Facebook page, expressing concern on the ongoing ‘reforms’ in the island. He recollected his childhood memories of a school tour to Lakshadweep and, years later, a trip to the island for the shooting of the film Anarkali.
“For the last few days, I’ve been getting desperate messages from people I know and do not know from these islands, requesting and sometimes even pleading for me to do what I can to bring public attention to what is going on there,” wrote Prithviraj. “I’m not going to go on and write an essay about the islands and why the new Administrator’s ‘reforms’ seem completely bizarre. All such material should by now be easily available online for those of you interested in reading about it.
“What I do know for sure though, is that none of the islanders I know, or none of those who’ve spoken to me, are happy with what’s happening. I strongly believe that any law, reform or amendment should never be for the land, but for the people of the land. It’s never the geographical or political boundary that makes a country, state or a Union Territory but the people who live there.
“How does disrupting the way of life of a centuries-old peaceful settlement become an acceptable means of progress? How will threatening the balance of a very delicate island ecosystem with no regard for the potential consequences pave the way for sustainable development?”
Director and actor Geethu Mohandas also expressed serious concern over the ongoing events in the island. Moothon, a Malayalam film directed by Mohandas, which was screened at several international film festivals and won recognition, was completely shot in Lakshadweep.
“I shot Moothon in Lakshadweep, one of the most magical places with the most beautiful people I have ever met in my life,” she said. “My heart goes out to each and everyone who reached out to me. Their cries were desperate, real. There is not much we can do apart from voicing our opinion collectively. Please do not disturb their peace, disrupt their ecosystem, their innocence. Not in the name of development. I hope it reaches the right ears.”
Social media is awash with ‘save Lakshadweep’ hashtags. The experiences shared by the residents of the island are being widely shared, too.