July 15th, 2021
By: Elsa Eal
The Stifled Outcry of a Drowning Paradise
With vibrant traditions, crystal seascapes, and no COVID cases in 2020, the tiny Indian territory of Lakshadweep sounds akin to a paradise on Earth. The touristic archipelago covers a mere 32.62 sq. km (that’s less than 1/20th of the entire city of New York!). Today, #SaveLakshadweep is catching fire on social media as the native islanders are on the verge of losing their homes, heritage, and basic human rights.
The jeopardy of Lakshadweep can be traced to its unique form of governance. First and foremost, Lakshadweep is not a state of India. Rather, it is a union territory of India. The title, union territory, is given to Indian jurisdictions that are deemed to be incapable to govern by themselves i.e, they are either too small or less populated or maybe both. Moreover, the administration of the island is led by an agent appointed by the President of India. To maintain state power, the agent acts as a mediator and does not exercise powers like other state heads. Conventionally, major legislative decisions or reforms can be taken only after the agent consults with other elected representatives of the island. But since December 2020, there have been efforts by the Indian government to bring about a significant shift in the traditional structure of governance. The islanders do not seem to welcome these changes. After the death of the former agent, D. Sharma, the administration was handed over to Praful Khoda Patel in December 2020. Consequently, Patel brought many new contentious reforms along with him. Criticisms and protests avalanched from different parts of the mainland, India, against these reforms. The age-old practices and traditions of the islanders would capsize if any of these new policies were to be implemented.
The messenger of these reforms, Mr. Patel himself is a target of criticism. Agents of the island have been civil servants since 2015. But by the end of 2020, a political leader, Patel, took on this role. Political leaders of the island added that the previous administrators were familiar with the islands' culture and had a close relationship with the islanders, unlike Patel. The President of Lakshadweep's National Congress Party, Bunyamin, stated that "He (Patel) does not even live here... He drafted all these reforms sitting somewhere else." In addition, an editor of an independent news website (dweepdiary.com) of Lakshadweep, M. Noushad, mentioned that the reforms went against the traditional practice and the islanders were never consulted regarding these reforms. In addition to this, there have been assertions that a hidden agenda shadowed the implementation of these reforms. The proponents of these assertions claimed that the hidden agenda was to implement the ideology of ‘Hindutva’. Hindutva is an Indian ideology that defines India’s culture based on the values of the religion, Hinduism. Currently, India is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the leaders of BJP take great pride in their agenda to implement Hindutva in India. Critics of the BJP claim that ‘Hindutva’ promotes undemocratic and extremist policies and aims to establish India as a non-secular Hindu country. Patel’s acquaintance with BJP leaders was proof that the reforms aimed to implement Hindutva. The critics argue that the rulers of the country (BJP), have chosen Patel to administer these undemocratic policies to a vulnerable land by infiltrating their government. Leader of a neighbouring state, Kerala, P. Vijayan has stated that “Lakshadweep is a laboratory for Hindutva politics.”
In contrast to the critics, Vice President of the BJP in Lakshadweep, A.P. Abdullakutty, denied allegations that the new policies were used to implement Hindutva. He claimed that the reforms aim to end the ‘corrupt practices’ of politicians of Lakshadweep. Abdulla asserted that, contrary to popular belief, there was no tension amongst the locals. He also blamed ‘certain fundamentalist groups’ of Kerala (neighbouring Indian state) and the uninformed social media users for stirring up hostility in the island by spreading false information. In addition, Patel claimed that the reforms are part of a developmental design to convert the islands into a ‘luxury tourism destination’. S.A. Ali, the regional administrator of Lakshadweep, added that they were planning to implement border controls since Laskshadweep is critical to the security of India. Nevertheless, Bunyamin, a political leader of Lakshadweep, stated that "Patel is leading an autocratic rule." Members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) added that these reforms are similar to the autocratic and anti-Muslim rules introduced in Kashmir, a disputed land north of India, by the Indian government.
One of Patel’s policies was alleged to bruise the age-old relationship, built on heritage and camaraderie, between the island and a South Indian state, Kerala. The leader of Kerala, P. Vijayan, had tweeted, "…there is a deliberate, malicious attempt to distort this connection. This is part of narrow interest." The criticism mounted when the reforms were said to ban freight vessels of Lakshadweep from entering their traditional destination in Kerala. The destination would be relocated to another neighbouring state, Karnataka. Kerala would lose a good amount of trade profits if this policy were to be implemented. Some Keralites claim that the ruling party is trying to distance the neighbours as retribution since Kerala has been opposing the ruling party’s extremist policies. Leaders of Kerala believe that this policy is the first step towards creating a rift between neighbours and breaking trade relations. But, S. A. Ali, stated that the new route will save time and cost of travel. Regardless, well-known Keralite personalities and politicians have raised voices in support of the islanders. They have written to the Central government and President of India to act against the 'perpetrators,' according to Mr. Vijayan, and put an end to the noxious reforms. The Parliament of Kerala unanimously adopted a resolution to remove Patel as the administrator of Lakshadweep.
Additionally, discussions regarding Patel’s reforms and position took place in the High Court of Kerala. It was the legal jurisdiction of Lakshadweep since both territories share the same language and are physically close to each other. As of June 20, 2021, The Lakshadweep administration raised a proposal to shift the legal jurisdiction of Lakshadweep from the Kerala High Court to the Karnataka High Court (neighbour who is situated farther away from Lakshadweep). There has been no justified answer to why they proposed to upturn the entire judicial system of the islands. But, many claim that the administration wanted to dismantle the discussion working against Patel and the reforms. The administration moved it to a state that has no idea about the needs of Lakshadweep to be able to exploit the citizens, without questions. A prominent lawyer from Lakshadweep, C.N.N. Hidya claimed that this move would be a ‘denial of justice.’ The islanders are comfortable expressing their concerns in Kerala since they speak the same language and share similar interests. Kerala politician M. Faizal stated, “if this proposal will see any light of the day, we will oppose it tooth and nail on the floor of Parliament as well as with the Judiciary.”
Patel’s policy also aimed to meddle with the diet of the islanders. Seafood and non-vegetarian meals are part of the diet and culture of the islanders. But Patel's reforms seem to reject the traditions, food choices, and livelihood of the islanders. The imposition of the 'Animal Preservation Regulation' would ban the usage of beef, processed from a cow or a bull. Consequently, the policy to ban beef strengthened the idea that Patel’s policies aimed to implement Hindutva. The intention to ban beef gave the impression to some Indian leaders that the policies aimed at imposing Hindu ideals on Muslim territory. According to Hinduism, cows are considered to be sacred beings since they contribute to the survival of a primarily agrarian country and must not be eaten. But, a leader of Kerala, E. Kareem called the beef ban an 'undemocratic and anti-people regulation.' Kareem claimed it was anti-people because 97% of Lakshadweep’s population was Muslim. The diet of the Muslim islanders consists primarily of non-vegetarian dishes, including beef. Moreover, dairying and selling bovines is a livelihood for many. The beef ban would destroy the islanders’ culture and primary form of sustenance. But, BJP leader of the island, Abdulla claimed that "It is not a law made by Patel. It is the law of the land. It is applicable in Lakshadweep too." Abdulla claimed that this law was implemented in 22 other states by the Congress Party, not BJP. S. A. Ali, regional administrator of Lakshadweep claimed that “Only those who are associated with its illegal business and those who have personal interests are propagating against this legislation.” Moreover, fish and eggs were allowed in the meals. Ali claimed that the decision was taken after consultation with islanders, including fishermen and that this would promote local fishermen and their livelihood.
Loss of Jobs
Keralite leader, Kareem and Kerala lawmaker, Hibi Eden brought to attention in their letters to the Centre that government officials and labourers would lose their jobs since the reform intended to shut down government institutions. Keralite politician Mohammad Faisal noted that the loss of jobs happened days after people protested the new policies. Moreover, the ‘sheds’ where fishermen stored their fishing equipment were being demolished without warning. If the fishermen are not allowed to fish, many fishermen would lose their income and a good portion of the islanders’ nutrition in their diet. Patel’s policies claimed that the fishermen violated the Coast Guard Act (the act that secures maritime zones in India) by constructing sheds. But, traditional laws of the island, keeping the protection of the islanders in mind, had allowed fishermen to construct these sheds. Hence, there was a strong doubt whether the new reforms bothered to respect the traditional practices of the islanders or aimed at implementing an ‘anti-people’ rule on the island.
Arrival of COVID-19
A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was operational on the island to protect the islands from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the SOP, a traveller had to be quarantined for fourteen days before entering Lakshadweep. The islanders claimed that Patel took a ‘unilateral’ decision to alter the SOP and that the action was ‘unplanned and unscientific’. Today, one can enter Lakshadweep if they bring a negative certificate of COVID-19. This unilateral decision of Patel has cost Lakshadweep the lives and sanity of the islanders. The land free of COVID-19 in 2020 reported its first case in January, a month after Patel arrived. The island has reported 49 deaths and a total of 10, 020 cases as of July 7, 2021. But, Patel claimed that the infection soared due to the resumption of economic activity and people’s movement.
Another contentious reform brought by Patel was the reduction of restrictions on alcohol trade. The dominant population of the island are Muslims for whom alcohol consumption is prohibited by their religion. Before Patel’s arrival, only one liquor bar was functional in a resort. Moreover, travellers to Lakshadweep could not carry or consume liquor. The travellers would usually abide by it, simply put, to respect the culture and religion of their hosts. But, Patel’s reform can allow the opening of liquor bars in ‘non-alcoholic zones.’ But, Abdullakutty, the BJP leader of the island, said the party that ruled before had given permission to open bars. He also mentioned that this act only meant “to attract foreign tourists” and liquor bars would only open up in resorts. According to politicians from Kerala, this act is an insult to the majority of the population.
The Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA) (Goonda Act) 2021
The Goonda Act is extremely controversial since it directly attacks the basic rights to freedom of the islanders. The Act can allow the police to detain any person without legal representation or public disclosure for up to a year. In legal terms, it aims to prevent islanders from being a threat to public order. But Lakshadweep is a region where crime is non-existent. Former leader of Kerala, O. Chandy, said that Patel and his accomplices were harassing people by misusing the Act to punish people who protested the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) and NRC (National Register of Citizens). The CAA and the NRC were provisions, put forward by the Centre, which discriminatorily targeted the eviction of Muslims of India in 2018. But Abdullakutty, leader of BJP in Lakshadweep, claimed that the Act was ‘enforced against certain miscreants’ who engaged in vandalism. Ali, also claimed that PASA was introduced to keep an eye on drug use and sexual abuse against children, which he claimed was increasing. In a land where the crime rate is negligible, the act of jailing minor criminals was illogical. The islanders agree that this act is meant to ‘silence them’ and criminalize protests.
Patel’s ‘two-child policy’ can render any person, who has more than two children, ineligible to contest in elections or vote. P. Muttreja, executive director of Population Foundation of India states that this reform ‘defies all logic’ and is ‘suicidal’. Policies that limit births per person usually aim to control the negative impacts of overpopulation. But, according to the 2019-20 National Health and Family Survey – 5, Lakshadweep’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is dangerously low and the population growth rate has been declining. This would lead to a labour shortage and would bring about a huge loss for the economy. Secondly, a low TFR will increase the ageing population. The economy would have to deal with a depleting workforce that contributes too little to the economy and invest their finances on an ageing population (pension and elderly health care) who does not contribute to the economy. Lakshadweep would be giving away more wealth than they are receiving and this would submerge the island’s economic force. Thirdly, policies that limit birth per person were proven to be ineffective in other states. Muttreja added that such policies increased ‘sex-selective and unsafe abortions’. This would negatively affect the sex ratio, encourages inequality against female children and harm the health of parents who give birth. Research reported that such policies led to an increase in divorces and the abandonment of children since people wanted to contest in elections or vote. But, Ali, regional administrator of Lakshadweep, clarified that this Act would only apply to parents who gave birth after the due date of the notification. Nevertheless, Muttreja, added that if the government of Lakshadweep intends to protect the islanders, they should work towards policies that would increase the population, not restrict it. Fourthly, Hibi Eden, lawmaker of Kerala, was concerned about the ‘loss of representational governance’. If this act were to be implemented, it would limit chances for some leaders, that the islanders support, to represent the islanders. Due to lack of representation, anti-people bills can be passed and some people wouldn’t be able to oppose them since they do not have the right to vote under this policy. There are claims that this policy aims to stifle the voices of the islanders and pave the way for the doom of the island.
Confiscation of Land
The Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 (LDAR) would give the administrator the power to 'remove or relocate' islanders from their own property in the name of developmental projects. LDAR is seen as a violation of constitutional rights since the islanders have a constitutional right to protect their land from the claims of outsiders. Moreover, the islanders have claimed that they have no use for developmental projects, like a highway, since the islands are sparsely populated. The islanders barely use vehicles that require gigantic highways. With the enactment of LDAR, forcible evictions would be made legal. The owner will have no say over what to do with their land and would have to develop their holdings according to the government's scheme. If they dared to retaliate, the Planning and Development Authority could penalize them heavily. Political leader of Lakshadweep, Bunyamin said, "We are happy to have wider roads, but when they propose to widen existing small roads by destroying houses on either side, how can we agree?... The islands already have space constraints. Many families will just have one house, what if they lose that?...these people will have to live by sea." As filmmaker P. Sukumaran hinted, the projects are not ecologically sustainable, and the people are worried that this may demolish their lush land. The Act would give arbitrary powers to the administration to meddle with the property rights of islanders (right to possess and retain property). This has been made reality. On 16 June, 2021, Mathrubhumi News reported that lands have begun to be confiscated, without ‘full consent’ from the owners, for paramedical activities. The islanders also fear that Patel may misuse the COVID-19 regulations to implement these reforms. For example, they could deny permission for protests or ‘parcel’ the land to private holders. Moreover, Bunyamin, political leader of the Lakshadweep, said that since the drafts are long, complicated and in English, many islanders would not be able to comprehend the implications of the drafts. Hence, he claims that the administration expects that due to unawareness, people will not object. The reforms will also give the agent arbitrary power to control matters which used to be taken care of by the locals, like ‘education, healthcare, agriculture, animal husbandry, and fisheries.’ The existing rights and powers of the locals would be snatched away if Patel’s reforms are to be implemented.
Due to the vulnerability of the territory, according to P. Sukumaran, islanders have been pleading with powerful members of their neighbour, Kerala to voice their misfortune. The islanders' anguish is rarely represented in the media since they are situated far from the mainland. Hence, the islanders hang on to the hope that pressure from powerful states, like Kerala, on the government would put an end to Patel’s rule. Keralite leader Kareem said that there is an ulterior motive to encroach on the islanders' tradition, identity, tribal autonomy and local economy. Many Keralites have agreed that these reforms are 'anti-muslim' because they target the destruction of a predominantly Muslim territory in order to promote 'Hindutva.' Leader of Kerala, V.T. Balram said this is 'part of a well-planned project...to ethnically marginalize the people of Lakshadweep.' Keralite politician, E. T Mohammad Basheer criticized the Central government by stating that "with the support of the Union government, the spread of communal venom is more than the venom of snakes". Hyderabadi leaders have also stated that the central government led by BJP ‘is causing irreversible destruction to the islands…’ They have strongly urged to withdraw the reforms and replace Patel with an official who is 'people-friendly.' People claim that the ruling party, BJP, is trying to ‘disempower the Muslims’ as a continuation of other anti-muslim laws permitted by them. According to leaders of the Congress party, P. Gandhi and R. Gandhi, the 'national treasure' of India is about to be confiscated by 'ignorant bigots.'
The aim to stifle the voices of the islanders was evident in the arrest of Aisha Sultana, filmmaker from Lakshadweep. In response to Patel’s reforms, she called him a ‘bioweapon launched by the Centre’ to destroy her island during a debate on a news channel. BJP leader C. A. K. Haji of Lakshadweep filed a case of sedition and hate speech against her. But, some local BJP leaders and writers protested against the arrest. Her lawyer added that “The message they are trying to give is that if you speak, there will be repercussions”.
Interestingly, the islanders argued that the media's interpretation is not correct and requested their supporters not to communalize the issue. They claimed that their fight is not a clash between the BJP or Hindu ideals and the Muslim ideals but against Patel. Save Lakshadweep Front (SLF) ‘is a non-violent movement led by the islanders to replace Patel with a ‘people-friendly’ administrator. The residents also conducted a ‘Black Day’ in response to Patel’s visit to the island. But, Bunyamin, political leader of Lakshadweep, asserted that "Patel has his own aims." Moreover, the General Secretary of the BJP in Lakshadweep, H.K.M. Kasim controversially stated that "...the grievances of the island people are genuine. It is always good to seek the opinion of people and their elected representatives before making decisions.” As the former leader of Kerala, O. Chandy, mentioned, 'the peace and tranquillity that has always prevailed in the islands has gone for a toss with the arrival of Patel.' But, Ali, regional administrator, has requested the islanders to join in on the “journey of development led by the administration.” Today, the crisis of Lakshadweep has been recognized by the international community as BBC reported the plight of the islanders due to the anti-people policies. As South Indian states defend their neighbour, we are yet to see how the Central government ruled by BJP reacts to the plight of their citizens.
Lakshadweep: India's paradise islands in turmoil over new plans
FPJ Explains: Why is #SaveLakshadweep trending on Twitter?
Lakshadweep Changes, Blamed On New Administrator, Trigger Outcry
We are aware of what's happening in Lakshadweep: Kerala HC
Widespread resentment in Lakshadweep over a slew of bad law proposals
What’s happening in Lakshadweep and why are islanders protesting against BJP administrator?
Here's Why Twitter is Talking About Lakshadweep & What's Happening There Right Now
'Black Day' to be observed in Lakshadweep as Praful Khoda Patel returns to island
Will fight for the rights of the people of Lakshadweep’: Priyanka Gandhi
Pinarayi expresses solidarity with Lakshadweep residents
Lakshadweep admin justifies ‘reform’ push, says it wants to develop islands like Maldives
Lakshadweep BJP leader springs a surprise on party, says some grievances genuine
Beef Banned, Alcohol Allowed: Why Lakshadweep is at the Centre of a New BJP Vs Opposition War
Kerala parties unite against BJP, allege Centre’s hand in unrest in Lakshadweep
Recall Lakshadweep Administrator: Opposition
Everything you wanted to know about the CAA and NRC
Taking Hindutva to Lakshadweep: A Mischievous Project Bound to Fail and Cost the Nation
Don’t give communal colour to Lakshadweep protests: Islanders
Kerala: Soon, CPM, UDF teams to Lakshadweep
CENSUS OF INDIA – 2011 LAKSHADWEEP
Lakshadweep’s proposed two-child norm for panchayat polls ‘flawed’
Lakshadweep administration initiates land acquisition procedures without owner's consent
Filmmaker booked for sedition over remark against Lakshadweep administrator
Lakshadweep admin moots proposal for shifting HC jurisdiction from Kerala to Karnataka
'This is BJP’s Patent Style': Why Lakshadweep is Being Compared with Kashmir