The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) expresses grave concern over the suppression of dissent in Lakshwadeep and booking of the young film maker, Aisha Sultana under the Sedition Act. People in Lakshwadeep who have been protesting against the violation of their democratic rights are being arrested. Online portals have been shut down. Three school students were arrested recently for sending messages to the administrator. Banners that have been put up on the island against the Citizenship Amendment Bill were removed and those who wrote it were arrested.
AIDWA condemns these authoritarian measures taken by the administrator, Praful Khoda Patel. He is the first political appointee as administrator of Lakshadweep and has taken a series of unprecedented, arbitrary and deeply disturbing actions. He has sent a new Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 and many other draft regulations on Panchayats, Prevention of Anti-Social Activities (PASA), and Animal Preservation to the home ministry for approval.
These regulations give him total domain powers over the territory and people of the islands, enabling the administration to take over any part of the islands in the name of “development activities” including ecologically damaging mining and extraction of mineral resources; to forcibly remove or relocate any islander owning that land, despite the fact that over 95 per cent of islanders belong to the Scheduled Tribes whose lands cannot be easily alienated; to by-pass panchayats and other local government bodies. These actions by the administrator are beyond appeal or judicial review.
Local fisherfolk have been attacked and their nets, gear and huts destroyed in the name of coastal regulations. Thousands of contract workers have been summarily laid off. Anganwadis are closed down. The sale, storage or consumption of beef, integral to the food habits of the overwhelmingly (95 per cent) Muslim population with ST status is banned. Non-vegetarian food is removed from school meals programmes. The panchayat law is being amended to prohibit anyone who has more than two children from contesting elections. The sale of alcohol was prohibited. Now permits for sale of liquor have been issued in the name of promoting tourism. The islands’ only government-run dairy farm is closed down and milk will be ferried from Gujarat instead. There is also a clear attempt to de-link Lakshadweep from its historical links with Kerala, with Malayalam being the local language, by diverting supply ships from Beypore Port near Kochi to Mangalore in BJP-ruled Karnataka.
He has enforced the Anti-Social Activities Regulation Bill, 2021, or the Goonda Act, with the politically motivated target of arresting people without trial. He has encroached on the local administrative powers of elected district panchayats in various sectors, including education, health care, agriculture, animal husbandry and fisheries with the sole aim of destroying local economies and to line the pockets of potential corporate sharks.
The proposed Lakshadweep Development Authority (LDA) with members appointed by the administrator will have sweeping powers to change the usage of the land to favour tourism and real estate investors. There is a diabolic attempt to divest the people of their land rights.
AIDWA firmly stands with the people of Lakshwadeep and will continue to campaign against the heinous attacks and undemocratic actions taken by the Modi government.