Lakshadweep, a union territory of India, is a group of 36 islands in the Arabian Sea, known for its pristine beaches, coral reefs, and rich marine life. But the islanders are facing a crisis as the new administrator appointed by the central government has proposed several controversial changes that could affect their culture, environment, and livelihood. Here are some of the key issues that have sparked protests and outrage among the locals and their supporters.
New land acquisition policy
One of the most contentious proposals is the draft land acquisition policy that would allow the government to take over any land for infrastructure projects. The administrator, Praful Khoda Patel, says he wants to develop Lakshadweep into a tourist destination like Maldives, with resorts, casinos, and water sports. But the islanders fear that this would lead to eviction, displacement, and loss of their ancestral land. They also worry that the influx of outsiders would erode their identity, culture, and religion.
Ban on beef and alcohol
Another proposal that has angered the locals is the ban on beef and alcohol. Lakshadweep has a predominantly Muslim population, and beef is a staple food for many of them. The ban on slaughter, transportation, and sale of beef would deprive them of their dietary choice and affect their livelihood. The ban on alcohol, on the other hand, would apply only to the locals, while tourists would be allowed to consume it in designated areas. This is seen as a discriminatory and hypocritical move by the administrator, who claims to promote tourism.
Changes in quarantine rules and Covid-19 surge
The islanders also blame the administrator for the surge in Covid-19 cases in Lakshadweep, which had remained Covid-free until January 2021. They allege that he relaxed the mandatory quarantine rules for travelers from the mainland, allowing the virus to spread among the vulnerable population. Lakshadweep has reported more than 10,000 cases and 51 deaths so far, which is alarming given its small population of around 65,000. The health infrastructure in the islands is also inadequate to cope with the pandemic.
Sedition case against filmmaker
The protests have also drawn the attention of celebrities, politicians, and activists, who have expressed their solidarity with the islanders and demanded the removal of the administrator. One of them is Aisha Sulthana, a popular model, actress, and filmmaker from Lakshadweep, who criticized the administrator’s policies in a TV debate. She was charged with sedition by the police for allegedly saying that the central government had used a “bio-weapon” against the islanders. She has denied the allegation and said she was referring to the administrator’s negligence in handling the Covid-19 situation.
Future of Lakshadweep
The future of Lakshadweep is uncertain as the islanders continue to resist the administrator’s proposals, which they say are an assault on their rights, autonomy, and ecology. They have also received support from the Kerala state government, which has passed a resolution against the administrator and urged the central government to recall him. The central government, however, has defended the administrator and said his actions are aimed at improving the welfare and development of the islanders. The matter is also pending in the courts, as several petitions have been filed challenging the legality and validity of the proposals.