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What Is Happening In Lakshadweep, India’s Muslim Majority UT?

SRINAGAR: Lakshadweep, India’s only Muslim territory deep into the Arabian Sea is in the news because the opposition believes it going Kashmir way. The BJP appointed administrator has started implementing a series of interventions that residents believe will alter their culture and dent their economy.

A photograph from a tourism promotion page showing children on a Lakshwadeep beach.

Malayalam speaking Muslims constitute 96.58 per cent of the archipelago population of 64,429 (2011 census) inhabiting 10 of the 36 small islands. It is a Union Territory that lacks local assembly but is represented in Lok Sabha. While the Delhi appointed Administrator sits at the top governance slot, a strong Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) mostly manages the local developmental and governance issues.

The island territory has an impressive literacy rate of 92% and a per capita expenditure 1.6 times the Indian average. Interestingly, there is no crime.  In 2019, no murder was reported from anywhere in UT.

Since December 2020, when Praful Khoda Patel took over as the Administrator, there have been sweeping orders that residents resent. These include banning cow slaughter, removing meat from school meals, introducing new preventive detention law, the government getting into real estate and introducing wine and liquor formally.

In February, reports appearing in media said, the administration came with Draft Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021, envisaging a ban on the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks. It said the objective is to preserve animals “suitable for milch, breeding or for agricultural purposes”. Under this regulation, only a “competent authority” can permit animal slaughter.

This has triggered anger because the population is beef-eating. It imports animals to sustain its food cycle. Almost coinciding with the proposed regulation, the Kavaratti administration changed the menu of the school canteens by removing mutton and chicken, replacing them by fish and eggs. Students in the island territory were being served mutton and chicken, once a week.

On May 21, reports appearing in media said, the UT administration has ordered the closure of all dairy farms run by the animal husbandry department. The animals in these farms including bulls, calves, heifers and bucks will now be auctioned.

The focus, however, is beyond animals as well.

During the recent counter-Covid19 efforts, the administration demolished fishermen sheds on the seafront saying it was public land encroached upon by the fishermen. These sheds, residents said, have been there for a long time.

The new administration has mooted The Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021, on April 28, envisaging wide-ranging changes in control over island land and empowering the administrator to forcibly acquire and develop land. This proposal comes at a time when the residents accuse the administration of denying them “legitimate and historical land rights”.

The new administration has also ended the no-liquor policy that was in vogue on the island since 1979. The no-liquor policy was implemented on the request of the local population but there were windows for liquor consumption, as officials would permit on request. Now the authorities have issued permits to a resort each in three islands Kadamat, Kavaratti and Minicoy. The intervention has already gone to court. The petition seeks to quash the licences because it poses “an imminent threat to the peace, tranquillity, as well as the cultural and religious fabric of the islands”.

Interestingly, the new administration has introduced and is chasing a proposal in the panchayat that will make ineligible to contest PRI elections if he or she has more than two children. The island territory has Panchayat councils as the only elected bodies. If approved, more than two-thirds of the existing panchayat members will become ineligible to hold office.

The region is almost a crime-free areas as only four residents are in prison. Since January 2021, the administration is chasing another draft regulation called Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, 2021. Aimed at maintaining public order, the regulation seeks to detain a person for one year, without trial. For a symbolic protest against permitting tourists during Covid19, the administration arrested 30 residents on a single day.

Interestingly, the residents allege that the governments want them to snap ties with the Bepore port in Kerala and focus on Mangalore port in Karnataka. This is being done, they believe, for political reasons. Trades, however, insist the decision should be left to the trade only as they are using both ports as per their convenience.

These measures have triggered a storm on social media and the Congress is seeking the removal of the Administrator. Patel has been a formal home minister of Gujarat when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister.

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