Lakshadweep Islands, lying close to the western coast of Kerala, is a territory we used to highlight with pride as the land with the lowest crime rate. Its inhabitants form a mere 75,000 who make a living out of the natural resources from its lush land and pristine sea, with the least damage to man and environment. But a new Administrator who was recently hoisted by the Centre upon the innocent population and his 'administrative reforms' give a sense that the Centre is hellbent on destroying this people socially and economically.
Life in Lakshadweep started losing its rhythum ever since the appointment of prime minister Narendra Modi's confidant Praful Khoda Patel in December 2020. He was brought in as a political appointment to occupy the post of Administrator of the territory, a post hitherto filled only by civil servants. During his tenure as Administrator in Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Patel had earned a reputation of 'meritorious performance' by expelling the tribals and fishermen community from their residential and job locations and by usurping their rights. It should be this very record that prompted the Centre to post him in Lakshadweep to preside over the implementation of the agenda of hatred. Further, Patel did serve as home minister of Gujarat for a brief interregnum during Modi's tenure as chief minister there.
The people of Lakshadweep have so far been religiously abiding by Covid protocol with all health safety precautions, thus succeeding in keeping the virus at bay. It can better be described that when the pandemic affected the entire world, the islanders built a fortress against its onslaught by putting up strict quarantine between Kerala and the island – two ends of the natives' frequent travel - for nearly a year. With the new Administrator starting to disrupting the protocol in toto, the pandemic hit the islands also. Thus in the tiny islands where there was not a single case of Covid until January 18 this year, by now 6,611 people contracted the disease and 24 have died. Because of very limited treatment and hospital facilities, the people there are put to immense suffering - which those who enjoy the privilege of hospitals and health centre services on call cannot easily understand. The severely affected patients are being airlifted by helicopter to Kochi for treatment. But the threat that the people of Lakshadweep now face is not Covid deaths, but the more stressful and strangulating rules the Centre is implementing in their land in haste. These laws and regulations, that upends the social and cultural life style of the islands, patently bear the hallmarks of an occupying force. Where there once were no crimes or even petty offences, now effort is being made to enforce a Goonda Act. Under the guise of coast protection, the sheds of fishermen were shattered. To add to the misery, a proposal has now been put forward that their links to Beypore port have to be snapped and all goods movement should be made via Mangaluru.
The current moves in Lakshadweep strip the island of all its democratic rights similar that of a district panchayat and aim to bring the island fully under the grip of the Administrator, who has been keeping the natives entirely out of the governing machinery. Native islanders, who have been working in government service, are being retrenched. In the tourism sector, the Society for Promotion of Nature Tourism and Sports has been eliminated from the role. Instead, huge tourism projects are being set up under the control of monopoly outfits, quite out of line with the cultural and traditional moorings of Lakshadweep. Orders have been issued to shut down the dairy farms, to stop indigenous dairy production and to auction off the cattle. Beef is banned and non-vegetarian items are being taken off the menu of mid-day meal of schools. On top of it, in Lakshadweep, which has been known for its alcohol-free atmosphere, liquor parlours are being licenced in the name of tourism promotion. Every change with new law and regulations is marked by a vengeful motive for the sole reason that the majority of the population are Muslims.
Despite being bereft of infrastructure, Lakshadweep natives possess unyielding self-respect and courage of conviction. For this very reason, at the face of these invasive moves, the islanders are vowed not to give in, but to defeat them. The students of Lakshadweep have already launched a struggle for the recapture of their land. On the other side, the Centre too has started its oppressive moves to crush this resistance of a people without much clout in the corridors of power and without major presence in the media. The Centre's probable calculation is that by tapping phone calls and blocking internet, it can isolate the people, disconnect them from the outside world and bring them to submission.
Members of parliament from Kerala have approached the President of India demanding the recall of Praful Khoda Patel. And stars from the world of arts and sports, who have experienced the love and gentleness of the island's population, have also come forward declaring solidarity with the islanders. But responses should not be limited to these: this is the time when the entire Kerala should stand united with the island people in order to counter the agenda of hatred. Kerala Assembly should be prepared to pass a resolution in its very inaugural session now ongoing, against the moves to wreck the ethos of Lakshadweep. Kerala is the land which the Lakshadweep is primarily dependent on for any of its needs. And this is the hour it needs Kerala's succour the most.