Lakshadweep is the smallest union territory of India, which comprises many tiny coral islands on the country’s south-west coast. Lakshadweep is one of the most peaceful areas of India, with untouched beauty, and unique local culture. The sandy coral islands, that form like a necklace of the Arabian Sea, are rich in corals and biodiversity. For centuries and even for 74 years after independence, Lakshadweep coexisted peacefully as a Union Territory of India, where the locals happily earned their livelihood doing their own business. For the past 3 months, we are seeing an increased agitation in Lakshadweep against some newly introduced policies of the Indian Government.
Some point out the communalism played by the Indian Government against a minority religion. Over 97% of Lakshadweep people are Muslims. Their economic livelihood was supported by agriculture, deep-sea fishing, small home industries and of course tourism. The governance of all these was left with the local panchayats and the locals themselves had got benefited from them. However, Lakshadweep Administrator, who is a representative of the Union Territory and appointed by the Union Government, has now taken full control over all of them. The reason given was unsatisfactory to the locals as well as many Indian political thinkers. The Lakshadweep Administrator introduced a debatable Anti-Goonda Act, that allows anyone to be arrested for 1 year without trial. On an island, where the crime rate is almost zero and the lowest in India, the introduction of such an Act is viewed with suspicion by local leaders, who perceive it as a method of suppressing the rebellion. A new rule on panchayat elections has been imposed, where any local leader having more than 2 children were barred from participating in elections or other Government schemes.
Beef, which forms a very important part of Lakshadweep cuisine, was banned. Schools were forbidden to include any non-vegetarian items in mid-day meals, where fish and meat were the predominant food items of the locals. Alcohol was banned in Lakshadweep since antiquity. The ban is now being lifted mostly to help tourists get access to alcohol. Even the lands of the locals, who belong to the Scheduled Tribes category, are in jeopardy. Lakshadweep Development Authority (LDA) was established for developing the islands of Lakshadweep in the pattern of Maldives. According to the Government, LDA is supposed to boost tourism in the region with world-class resorts, urban facilities and employment of the locals. However, the locals fear that they will be forced to give up their land, will be evicted and sent to mainland India, and will provide land for business to non-natives.
Not only the Lakshadweep people but also many mainlanders oppose such kind of development in the eco-sensitive region. Environmentalists are concerned that large scale construction will destroy the corals. The politicians accused of snatching away the rights of the Lakshadweep people. Many religious groups see it as a disturbance between the peaceful coexistence of Hindu and Muslim culture that prevailed for centuries in the region. Left and Congress are banned from entering Lakshadweep, while tourists with a negative RT-PCR test, can enter Lakshadweep without any quarantine. This mandatory quarantine rule for all tourists was lifted in May 2021 following which Lakshadweep recorded its first-ever Covid-19 case. Now the situation has worsened among the small population as Covid cases increase, reaching 100 a day by June 2021. Though many of the changes were not implemented yet, the Administrator is thinking about withdrawing some of the proposed changes that have drawn the people to protest. While making changes are good for a society to develop, it is equally important to preserve the rights of the locals, their customs and traditions, and also protect the environment at the same time for sustainable development.
Written by – Himadri Paul