Lakshadweep: Move to change weekly holiday from Friday to Sunday triggers row

The administration issued a circular on December 17 modifying school timings, saying changes were in tune with national norms and to ensure maximum utilisation of resources
A file photo from an earlier protest in Lakshadweep against alleged anti-people policies brought in by the administration. (ANI/File)
A file photo from an earlier protest in Lakshadweep against alleged anti-people policies brought in by the administration. (ANI/File)
Published on Dec 22, 2021 01:10 PM IST
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The move to change the weekly holiday for schools from Friday to Sunday has triggered a fresh backlash against the administration in Muslim-majority Lakshadweep months after protests over alleged attempts to change its unique culture and traditions rocked the archipelago.

The administration issued a circular on December 17 modifying school timings, saying changes were in tune with national norms and to ensure maximum utilisation of resources. Around 96% of the archipelago’s 66,000 residents are Muslims. Schools remained closed on Fridays in Lakshadweep to facilitate the all-important afternoon congregational prayers.

The Save Lakshadweep Forum, a body of political and religious bodies, said this is the latest move to “destroy the region’s cultural identity” and that it would oppose the move fiercely. “This is another move to spoil the identity of the island. Administrator Praful Khoda Patel is unnecessarily provoking poor residents. We will not allow this to happen,” said the forum in a statement.

A draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation to develop the islands as a major tourist destination triggered protests in the region earlier this year. Residents alleged the regulation will destroy the islands’ character and identity since 97% of the islands are covered by pristine forests and 95% of its Muslim population belongs to the Scheduled Tribe category. Many parliamentarians, former bureaucrats, and artists described the regulation as arbitrary and aimed against the community of the islands.

The Kerala assembly passed a unanimous resolution seeking the recall of Patel over it. As many as 93 retired bureaucrats sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticising Patel’s “partisan attitude”. They urged him to protect the region’s unique culture and tradition.

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Lakshadweep collector Asgar Ali said the change in the holiday was in line with a long-pending demand of teachers and a section of parents. “It is nothing to do with the religion. We are providing a one-hour break to students to offer Friday prayers. The administration is following the national system where Sunday is designated as a holiday. This will help streamline things.”

B Hassan, the local district panchayat president, said the administration never consulted anyone before announcing a sweeping change like this. “The majority community should have been consulted before taking such a decision. You cannot take decisions like this which will antagonise the majority of the people,” he said. He said there will be a practical difficulty for students in completing prayers and lunch during the one-hour break.

The region’s residents have also opposed a move to ban cattle slaughter, implementation of a two-child norm for local body members, issuance of liquor licenses, and other new rules.

In August, the Kerala high court, which has jurisdiction over Lakshadweep, rejected a petition questioning the Lakshadweep administration’s decision to close dairy farms and remove meat from the midday meals in schools. The court said it cannot interfere in policy matters of the administration. An appeal against this is pending before the Supreme Court.

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Sunday, May 29, 2022