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BJP Government imposes draconian anti-Muslim laws in Lakshadweep, India’s only Muslim majority region after Kashmir

18th Jun 2021
BJP Government imposes draconian anti-Muslim laws in Lakshadweep, India’s only Muslim majority region after Kashmir

Praful Khoda Patel Administrator, 63, of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep has introduced a draft of anti-Muslim laws to the Islands in the Arabian Sea.
(Credit: WikiCommons)

Sajeda Haider

India’s ruling Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has set off a storm on the idyllic islands of Lakshadweep by appointing an administrator who has brought in a series of anti-Muslim and counterproductive laws.

Since taking charge in December 2020, Praful Khoda Patel, 63, has introduced a series of shocking policies with unprecedented impact on the Constitutional rights, culture, and livelihood of the islands’ people.

The archipelago of 36 islands – of which only ten are inhabited – lies in the Arabian Sea, just 220 to 440 km from India’s southern state of Kerala and has a population of around 70,000 of which 96% are Muslim, making it India’s only other Muslim-majority region after Kashmir.

Lakshadweep is a Union Territory administered by the central government in Delhi through a bureaucratic administrator.

Hailing from the western state of Gujarat, Patel is the first politician to be appointed to the post. Patel is a close ally to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, ever since his days as junior Home Minister of Gujarat when Modi was its Chief Minister. Patel and his family have a strong background in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the far-right Hindu nationalist, paramilitary organisation and ideological head of the BJP, which aim to turn India into a Hindu nation and snatching the rights of its religious minorities.

Patel’s contentious decisions includes, a drive against meat consumption, a crackdown on dissent, instituting a maximum two-child rule for council candidates, destruction of fishing infrastructure, partially lifting the ban on alcohol and permission for large corporations to take over land.

Immediately after his appointment, Patel introduced a cow-protection law banning the consumption of beef and transportation of cattle – a pet project of the BJP which has led to the lynching of scores of Muslims in BJP-ruled states. Not satisfied with taking beef off the table, mutton and chicken were also removed from the Government schools’ meal menus and hostel dining halls, to make the islanders vegetarian.

Patel is accused of making Lakshadweep a hotbed of Covid-19 infections by scrapping the stringent mandatory quarantine for mainland travellers. The islands remained Covid-free in 2020 because travellers had to spend seven days in quarantine in Kochi, Kerala and the next seven days in home quarantine on the islands.

However, by the end of last month, Lakshadweep had reported over 7,000 positive cases and 25 deaths, more than 10% of its population.

A proposed land development plan gives Patel vast powers to confiscate land and relocate people with stringent penalties for those who resist. It allows the consentless transfer of land to corporations from locals and renders compensation under the administration’s prerogative. The plan also allows for mining and exploitation of mineral resources by large corporations.

Patel is also the administrator of the union territories of Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu and has adopted similar policies which have allegedly benefited lobbies close to him while ignoring residents. The islands’ 42-year-old ban on alcohol has been lifted, allowing three resorts licenses to sell and consume liquor, and more are in the offing.

Patel has sought to justify the new rules, claiming they are aimed at boosting economic development and promoting the islands as a tourist destination on par with neighbouring Maldives. However, critics fear that it is BJP’s anti-Muslim agenda that is driving Patel.

Another new legislation, the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities (PASA) Regulation, will enable the administration to detain a person without charge or trial for up to a year. With a literacy rate of 92%, bettered only by neighbouring Kerala, and a per capita expenditure that is 1.6 times the national average, the islands are known for their near-zero crime rate that is the lowest in the country. According to Mohammed Faizal, the only MP from Lakshadweep, the PASA is designed to suppress dissent.

“The administration might have assumed that the people would react to unpopular regulations, So, this law was introduced in advance with an aim to crush people’s protests,” said Faizal of the Opposition’s Nationalist Congress Party.

Patel has introduced another controversial draft bill that prevents anyone who has more than two children from contesting elections.

This law stems from the RSS’s propaganda that Muslims invariably have large families because they have more than one wife with the aim to out-populate Hindus, a ludicrous conspiracy considering Indian Muslims traditionally have one wife and 85% of India’s 1.4 billion population is Hindu.

Lakshadweep has limited democracy, barring its solitary MP, local councils known as panchayats are the only elected

institutions on the islands. “Many current elected members of panchayats have more than two children, which means that serving members will not be qualified to contest elections if the law is enacted,” said Abdul Khader, Chair of Kavaratti island panchayat. Kavaratti is the capital of the Union Territory.

All opposition parties have united in a mass petition to the President to recall Patel. “The mass petition will reflect the collective feeling of hurt of the islanders who have been leading a peaceful life until the new administrator came and went berserk with his reforms without consulting us, the elected representatives,” said Thaha Malika, a district panchayat member from Kavaratti.

Rahul Gandhi, former President of the main opposition Indian National Congress, grandson of late PM Indira Gandhi and Wayanad MP in Kerala, has come out strongly in support of the islanders. ‘Lakshadweep is India’s jewel in the ocean. The ignorant bigots in power are destroying it. I stand with the people of Lakshadweep,’ tweeted Gandhi.

Unmindful of the nationwide protests, Patel has allegedly ordered his officials to prepare a list of Government employees to be sacked. He had earlier terminated the services of over 2,000 temporary Government workers, raising fears about a sinister plot to bring in ‘outsiders’ to replace them.

It is very clear that Patel has the ears of Modi and is working towards the BJP’s long-term strategy of subjecting Indian Muslims wherever they are.

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