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Reforms in Lakshadweep: Not for development but for forced migration


An ideal democracy is not merely electoral. A democracy becomes stronger with its people's voice, and choise to criticize; when the citizens question the government without any fear.The authoritarian regime by rejecting the political plurality , and the destructive measures imposed on a territory and its populace, cannot be justified by any means.

The beginning of the series of these laws that remind us of the fictional land of 'Aathi', and the forced migration of the people of 'Aathi', as a result of the catastrophic measures by foreign powers, authored by Sarah Joseph, can be found in the multi-crore tourism villa project that is proposed for the 'development' of Lakshadweep along with the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 2018.No protest was arisen from the peoples' representatives on a larger scale, from the islands, though scientists and scholars from more than 30 universities worldwide had opposed it, by signing a mass petition.

Lakshadweep, is a union territory of India, with 35 islands of which only 10 are inhabited. Lakshadweep does not have a legislative assembly like Pondicherry. The administrator appointed is the supreme authority in decision making in Lakshadweep. Hence, the administrators were selected from the list of senior IAS officers to hold them accountable for their abuse of power. This pattern was changed after 2014, and a retired IPS officer was appointed as the administrator of Lakshadweep, and by the end of 2020, came the new administrator who has no connection with the civil services. His revisal of SOP had caused Lakshadweep which was a green zone, to get affected by the pandemic. Lakshadweep, which has limited medical facilities, is now struggling to breathe with no means to save its people and tackle the high test positivity rate.

Now, let's see how the so-called 'development projects' would adversely affect the islands and their people. 'Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation Act 2021' introduced in the islands, last February, which is the ditto of 'Gujarat Anti-Social Activities Regulation Act 1985' is the first one in line to be analysed. This law entitles the police to imprison a person without a trial, and keep him under custody for up to 12 months, which is an evident encroaching into the people's freedom of expression in a place that claims to hold the record of the least number of cases reported in the country.

The offbeat clauses comprised in the draft of the 'Panchayat Regulation Amendment Act'by the new administration includes a family planning structure too, by advising the candidates not to have more than two children. The administration claims that it is a mode of development. It also curbs the power of the only elected body lead by the President Cum Chief Counsellor, as a part of development, in a democratic country.

The 'Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021' planning to be implemented in the islands, curtails the freedom of the populace to have the food of their choice, by invading their kitchens and forcing them to change their food style, banning beef which is a cheap source of protein for them. It has also exempted beef, mutton, and chicken from the menu for school children; which is also claimed as a measure taken for the 'development of the islands.

Lakshadweep was dry land, following the liquor ban under the provision of the 'Lakshadweep Prohibition Regulation, 1979', till February 2021. The liquor for the tourists vising Lakshadweep was provided in the uninhabited island named 'Bangaram' which is a tourist spot. Hence, it did not harm the belief system and culture of the people yet. But today, when the administration is trying to encroach into the cultural space of the islanders by opening bars in the thickly populated islands, knowing that the government will not get any revenue from this, as the locals will not support this attempt, this is not for the sake of development either. Nevertheless, the community that had offered their land to build temples, has the right to expect their culture and customs to be respected as well.

Lately under 'The Lakshadweep Development Authority Draft, 2021' the privatization of Lakshadweep is proposed, by making them claim their properties every 3 years making them tenants in their own homeland. It also suggests the utopian plan' for national highways and railway projects connecting the islands with the mainland.

The airlifting of serious patients would need double verification of the documents, and only if the committee set up by the administration understands the seriousness, the patients will be carried by helicopter. The movements to demolish buildings including mosques had begun, 'to widen the road'. Do the burning of the sheds where the fishing equipment of the fishermen was kept, cutting off the ties of the islands with the outer world, imposing corporate products like 'Amul' on the people, and threatening the protesting nurses who demanded to fix a minimum wage with arrest, shutting down of educational institutions, dismissing the contractual workers without prior notice, also fall under the development projects for the betterment of the islands?

What is happening with Lakshadweep today is not for the sake of development, but the curtained actions proposed for forced migration. Singapore model development is not what Lakshadweep seeks, it needs freedom of life, and a design of progress by sensing the pulse of its geographical topography. It desires a developmental strategy that does not intrude into the culture, belief system, and lifestyle of the islanders; but one that accommodates its fragile ecosystem.

(The writer is a native of Lakshadweep and a post graduate student of English at Centre for English Studies, JNU New Delhi)

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