Lakshadweep – A Sinking and Shaken Archipelago
THE ISLANDERS WANT THE ANTI-PEOPLE POLICIES PROPOSED BY MODI’S HAND, PRAFUL PATEL, TO BE RECALLED, ALONG WITH PATEL HIMSELF.
30th June, 2021
Written by Anna Abraham
Illustrated by Suryansh Srivastava
“They call us Jihadi.”
While speaking with an acquaintance from Lakshadweep, I couldn’t help but notice the anguish that accompanied. As someone who has been fairly vocal regarding the policy atrocities that have occurred in the islands, he had to face a fair share of flak from the trolls that lurk the activist corners on social media. Despite the focus of all his contentions around the socio-cultural, political and environmental rights of the people – the word ‘Jihadi’ continued to follow and haunt him. It seems there is a pattern in how people dissenting against unjust policies are met – labels of ‘anti-national’, ‘urban naxal’ and the age-old ‘jihadi’ circle them.
94.8% of the population on the island falls under the Scheduled Tribe category. Over 99% of the people are Muslim. These last few months have been revolutionary for Lakshadweep. The protests that have taken the islands by storm, mark the first time in history all 36 islands stand united against the policies proposed by Modi’s hand – Praful Patel, the administrator. Islanders have also made the call that Patel be recalled. On June 7, residents observed a 12-hour fast and an all-day strike in response to the Save Lakshadweep forum, with some even participating in an underwater protest. Their efforts paid off with the country taking notice and prominent opposition leaders calling the steps taken by the administration dictatorial and fascist. On 22nd June, the Kerala High Court ordered a stay on some of the controversial policies.
The controversial policies and rules
The Praful Patel-led administration has been accused of proposing anti-people, draconian and undemocratic policies and introducing arbitrary rules.
Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) 2021: The draft poses an imminent threat to the autonomy and land rights that the people of Lakshadweep enjoy. It grants the administration (government) sweeping powers to grab land from landowners for ‘development’ activities. Residents claim this is an arbitrary legislation aimed at disenfranchising their land rights. It would allow unrestricted mining, quarrying and building on sensitive land. The regulation also imposes severe punishment such as imprisonment for obstruction of work under Section 119. Patel has allegedly already ordered houses be razed for ‘road widening’ projects. This regulation is neither ecologically sound nor developmentally beneficial. The people nor their representatives were consulted in its drafting. The regulation poses a serious threat to the island’s delicate ecosystem. Recent reports also suggest that Lakshadweep will suffer severely due to rising sea levels and coastal erosion. This could cause the smaller islets to submerge – essentially sinking. The regulation could pave a quicker path to this destruction.
Draft Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation 2021: This regulation imposes a complete ban on the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks. It also comes with a severe punishment of 7 years imprisonment.
The Patel administration lifted restrictions on the use of alcohol in the islands.
Patel has also proposed that the midday meals in school stop serving non-vegetarian food. To reiterate, over 99% percent of the population is Muslim. There seems to be very little regard for the culture and livelihood of the islanders.
Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (Goonda Act 2021): This regulation allows for protesters to be detained for up to a year without offering a reason. Notably, Lakshadweep has the lowest crime rate in the country.
The administration also introduced a bizarre two-child policy for anyone running for panchayat polls ineligible if they have more than two children. Experts remark this is illogical and would cause gendered biases against women.
Patel’s COVID protocol has also been credited with the sudden rise in cases on the island. Till January 2021, the islands did not have a single recorded case of COVID-19. With Patel’s loose COVID protocol, in which the mandatory 14-day quarantine was discontinued, tourists were only required to present a negative RT-PCR test, causing the sudden spike.
It’s important to understand that Lakshadweep’s culture is different from the rest of the country. Although overwhelmingly Muslim, the population does not practice Muslim culture like the rest of India. They are a matrilineal society and much of their culture is heavily borrowed from Hindu traditions. Although a Malayalam-speaking region, there are strong Arabic, Tamil and Kannada influences. Since they enjoy isolation from the rest of the country, their culture has evolved separately. Any interference from outside could be damning to their unique way of life.
The usage of the term ‘Jihadi’ to stifle dissenters makes it clear that mainland India has little to no idea of what will be lost if the Patel administration is allowed to carry out its tyrannical policies. This blind and baseless hate for Islam will cost India heavily. Any policy comparisons to Kashmir are not in the least inflated. The centre is doing what it did in Kashmir and what it is attempting in Andaman to Lakshadweep. The margins have never been more unsafe. Patel spent 15-20 days before passing these arbitrary orders. It is not that the administration suffers from a lack of a socio-cultural and ecological understanding of the region, but it seems as though they simply don’t care.
And as always, the islanders’ rights are trivialised. With over 94% of the population belonging to the ST category, the Brahmanical connotations to the policy stare us straight in the face while the mainstream shies away from covering the power dynamics in this melting pot of cultures.