Video Editor: Ashutosh Bharadwaj
Producer: Smitha TK
The people of Lakshadweep started the 12-hour long hunger strike at 6 am on Monday, 7 June, to protest the recently introduced draft regulations in the Union Territory.
Adhering to COVID norms, people protested indoors, wearing masks and holding placards with strong slogans condemning the actions of the Lakshadweep administrator Praful Khoda Patel.
“We will not give up our beautiful Lakshadweep. We will save democracy,” a banner put up by a family in Lakshadweep read.
Most political parties, including local leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of the Union Territory have participated in the nationwide protest to condemn the administration.
From 6 am to 6 pm on Monday, all shops are scheduled to remain shut and no one is expected to venture into the sea for fishing. Also, no vehicles are expected to ply on the roads.
Protests Rage in the Islands
Many locals even held placards underwater to express their dissent.
“Anything that affects peace cannot be termed development. Every person of Lakshadweep, including kids will fight till our death to protect our land,” said a local.
“The leaders of our Union Territory have pushed us to this grave situation,” said another local.
“Go back Collector Asker Ali. Go back Administrator. Bring back the peace of Lakshadweep,” said another local.
Former Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac took to Twitter to express solidarity with the people of Lakshadweep.
“For the first time in history islands-wide protest in Laccadives: Hartal of all shops, 12 hour long hunger strike by entire population in front of houses and panchayats members in front of their office. Gandhian non-cooperation struggle seems to be on the card.#savelakshadweep,” read the tweet.
Arrests Ahead of Protest
On Sunday night, three persons, Mujeeb, Sajeed and Jamhar from Kavaratti island, were detained under Section 269 of the Indian Penal Code for disobeying COVID quarantine rules. They were reportedly arrested for putting up posters announcing the protest.
On Saturday, 5 June a group of 93 former civil servants expressed their concerns over the “disturbing developments" in the Union Territory in the name of "development". The Constitutional Conduct Group, a group of former civil servants who have worked with the Union and state governments, highlighted their concerns in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The actions and far-reaching proposals of the Administrator, without due consultation with the islanders, constitute an onslaught on the very fabric of Lakshadweep society, economy and landscape as if the islands were just a piece of real estate for tourists and tourism investors from the outside world,” read the letter.
“Fishermen are in despair as their equipment are demolished. Public is in despair wondering when their homes will be demolished. Students are in despair because they can't attend online classes with poor connectivity. Even the democratic rights of the panchayat are taken away,” said Dr Ayshabi based in Kerala.
Drafts Slammed as ‘Anti-People’ Policies
In a bid to make Lakshadweep the new Maldives, the administrator, since January has introduced draft legislations that will alter the image and democratic setup of the tiny Union Territory, locals alleged. Since May, social media has been abuzz with posts under the #SaveLakshadweep hashtag, demanding the removal of Patel.
The most contentious of them all is the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 that would empower the administrator to take over any private property for the development of townships and other projects. The bill is being widely resented, with protesters alleging that this law is aimed at serving "real estate interests" of private parties.
The Anti-Social Activities Regulation Bill is another sticking point as it allows the detention of a suspect for a year, without a court-issued warrant. The protesters have termed it the "Goonda Act" and opposed the bill saying Lakshadweep has the country's lowest crime rate according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.
The Collector of Lakshadweep argued that there has been a spike in drug and child abuse related crimes in the past two years.
The administrator is also blamed for the spike in coronavirus cases in Lakshadweep that was COVID-free until January 2021. He had relaxed the stringent quarantine rules.