Lakshadweep residents on hunger strike to protest ‘partisan’ regulations
Lakshadweep residents are on a 12-hour hunger strike on Monday to protest against three proposed rules governing tourism, cattle and panchayat elections, which they fear will destroy the unique culture and tradition of the island, home to around 70,000 residents.
The Save Lakshadweep Forum, a body floated to channelise mounting protests against the rules, said local residents will fast in their homes and all shops and establishments, except emergency services, will stay closed from 6am to 6pm during the first major protest in the archipelago in the Arabian Sea. The island administration, led by Praful Khoda Patel, has warned of strict action under the pandemic laws to deter crowding at public places.
“This is the first time all islands are observing such a protest. Though we have been assured repeatedly that local sentiments will be heard and addressed, the administrator is going ahead with his partisan and retrograde decisions,” said UCK Thangal, one of the convenors of the forum.
Residents of Lakhadweep, an archipelago in Arabian Sea comprising 37 tiny islands—including 11 inhabited by humans--- have been protesting against Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (2021) that proposes to develop the islands as a major tourist destination. Residents allege it will destroy the islands’ character and identity since 97% of the islands are covered by pristine forests and 95% of its population belong to the protected scheduled tribe category.
They are also protesting against Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, which proposes to ban the killing of bovine animals and prohibit the consumption, storage, transport or sale of the cattle, meant in island environments. Most of the Lakshadweep residents are Muslims and they feel the regulations target their food habits.
The residents are also opposing the Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021, which proposes disqualification of candidates with more than two children in the gram panchayat elections.
Many parliamentarians, former bureaucrats and artists have described the draft regulations as “arbitrary” and insensitive towards the majority community of the islands. Last week, the Kerala assembly passed a unanimous resolution seeking the recall of the administrator, and on Sunday, 93 retired bureaucrats sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticising the “partisan attitude” of the new administrator and urged him to protect the unique culture and tradition of the islands.
A convenor of the Save Lakshadweep Forum, Thangal said 34 administrators have governed the UT since its formation in 1956 but a situation like this never arose. “Anger and fear have gripped the island like never before. Hope the Union government will realise the gravity of the situation and take corrective measures,” he said, adding the future course of protests will be decided after Monday.
The letter to the PM written by the group of former bureaucrats alleges the draft regulations not only ignore the unique geography and community life of islands, but it also gives “arbitrary and draconian powers” to the administrator to acquire, alter, transfer and remove or relocate islanders from their property. They also pointed out that the Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (Goonda Act) is quite unwarranted and uncalled for.
“According to the National Crime Records Bureau the crime rate in the island is very low compared to the rest of India, it has generated fear that the real purpose of the regulation is to smother dissent or protests against the policies and actions of the administrator,” the letter said.
They said the proposed regulations were presently with the Union home ministry for approval.