India’s Lakshadweep: An Opposition Wave Against Reform Measures
The Lakshadweep Administration, headed by Praful Khoda Patel, who was a minister in Gujarat, has proposed reform measures in Lakshadweep.
The Lakshadweep Administration, headed by Praful Khoda Patel, who was a minister in Gujarat when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister, has proposed reform measures in Lakshadweep. Patel was accused of effacing the culture and identity of the inhabitants in Lakshadweep and cutting its ties with Kerala. He claims that these reforms target the development of Lakshadweep, following the path of the Maldives Islands. However, the inhabitants of Lakshadweep (islanders) protested against these measures for being illogical and mindless.
Lakshadweep is a Union Territory (UT) of India. It is an archipelago of 36 islands. Its capital is Kavaratti. It is located in the Arabian Sea, away from the coast of Kerala in India.
The UT has a population of 65,000 people, with a Muslim majority, inhabiting ten out of the 36 islands.
Four reform measures aroused the anger of islanders, which were mainly: (1) The Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, (2) The Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, (3) the amendment of The Lakshadweep Panchayat Staff Rules, and (4) The Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation.
The islanders made sit-ins and demonstrations and launched the hashtag (#SaveLakshadweep) to draw attention to their opposition to the regulations.
They say that the regulations are a ploy to erase their identity, culture, and lifestyle under the name of ‘reforms’ and ‘development’.
First, Patel states that The Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation is to develop the island and to transform it into a smart city in the future. Islanders argue that the regulation gives real estate groups the right to evict inhabitants from their homes and lands.
The surface area of Lakshadweep is only 32 square Kilometers and barely when vehicles exist. Therefore, it does not make sense that reconstruction and expansion should be initiated.
Second, the Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation resembles Goonda’s Act in India. This act gives the state the power to detain anyone without disclosing it to the public, under the allegation of criminality.
Knowing that the crime rate is the lowest in Lakshadweep. This means that the law is a monopolization to detain anyone who opposes the administration.
Third, the Lakshadweep Panchayat Staff Rules take away the right of those who have more than two children to run for elections or be a member of the Gram Panchayat.
Fourth, the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation prohibits the slaughtering of cows. According to the law, vehicles that transport beef are liable to be confiscated. The penalty of slaughtering a cow is ten years minimum extending to a life sentence and a fine of Rs 5 lacs (i.e. Rs 500,000 / $ 6,906).
The law contradicts the culture and lifestyle of a Muslim majority country. Islanders use cows in agriculture, breeding for milk, and for beef.
Patel also permitted liquor in a country where liquor is self-prohibited.
Therefore, social activists, ecologists, and geographers have appealed to the governor of Kerala, Arif Mohamed Khan, to intervene immediately and to stop the reform laws.
On Wednesday, May 26, 2021, they sent a letter to the governor stating that “While proposing the reforms, no consideration or due respect had been given to the time-tested ways of land use, land ownership, ocean resource utilization and or livelihood practices adopted by the community,”
They added, “the culture and traditions of the ethnic group had been overlooked and efforts were being made to interfere in the food habits, reproductive freedom, and self-reliance of the inhabitants of the island.”
Moreover, a letter was sent on the same day by Sharad Pawar, Chief of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, stating that “I fear that unwarranted and irrational decisions taken by the Lakshadweep administrator would lead to the destruction of traditional means of livelihood and the unique culture of Lakshadweep. It has already resulted in huge unrest and protest.”
It has been argued that these laws aim to shift the freight transit from the Beypore and Kochi ports to Mangaluru port to cut ties between Lakshadweep and Kerala.
The President of Kerala Merchants’ Chamber of Commerce said that “The Lakshadweep administration has been insisting that the islanders should not rely on Kerala ports such as Beypore and Kochi for freight transit, and look at Mangaluru for the purpose. The move came even before the new administrator took charge. In the wake of new developments, we can’t see the move in isolation.”
Munshid Ali, a member of Beypore Port Advisory Council, said that “Kerala is losing out in terms of tax revenues too as the business moves to Mangaluru. Our company supplies tires to Lakshadweep. Now, we have to move our goods to Mangaluru, making our cost of operations higher,”
He added, “Effectively, what will happen is we will lose out as companies located near Mangaluru port will take our business.”
In addition to that, Lakshadweep Island has been facing a rise in Covid-19 infections. It was a result of Patel’s decision to lift the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of Covid-19 to prevent the spread of the virus.
The first reported case was on 18 December, exactly after a week of lifting the SOP. Now, Lakshadweep is passing through severe distress amid a lack in the hospitals’ number.
Patel’s reform measures instill an authoritarian system that discriminates against an ethnic group and deprives them of the basic needs of life
These reforms undermine the principles of representation and equality before the law within a parliamentary democratic system.
Hence, immediate intervention is a must to withdraw such reforms from being implemented.