Police in India’s Lakshadweep Islands have accused a local filmmaker of sedition after they called the federal territory administrator a “biological weapon” used by the government against the island’s residents.
The case against Aisha Sultana was recorded at a police station on the main island and capital of Lakshadweep, Kavaratti, following a complaint by a local politician belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indian media said Friday.
The BJP’s complaint cited a TV channel broadcast in Malayalam over the government’s controversial plans in Lakshadweep, during which Sultana said the Modi government was using the island’s administrator, Praful Khoda Patel, as it is a “biological weapon.”
Lakshadweep police have registered an FIR against director Aisha Sultana on charges of sedition and hate speech after she, during a televised debate, said the central government had dismissed COVID-19 as a “biological weapon “against the people of Lakshadweep
– ANI (@ANI) June 11, 2021
Patel, 63, is the first non-bureaucratic administrator of Lakshadweep Islands and was once interior minister of the native state of Modi, Gujarat, when the Indian prime minister was its chief minister for more than a decade. years.
The Lakshadweep Islands – popular with tourists – are run by an administrator appointed by the Indian president.
Since taking over the Lakshadweep administration in December last year, Patel has pushed for one a multitude of new laws and proposals – without consulting locally elected representatives – in India’s only Muslim-majority territory outside of Kashmir administered by India.
Lakshadweep is an idyllic archipelago of 36 islands – 10 of them inhabited – spread over an area of 32 square kilometers at sea, about 200 km (124 miles) from the southwest coast of the Indian peninsula.
It is the smallest of India’s eight “Union Territories” (UTs), with a population of 65,000 people – 97 per cent of them Muslims – who now fear losing their land, their livelihoods and more. rights while the government supports plans to develop the remote archipelago as a tourist center.
Proposals for new town planning laws to make room for tourism, luxury housing and deep-sea farming projects would give Patel the power to evict or relocate islanders from developing areas, he said. the land as “planning” areas.
Other controversial proposals range from a ban on slaughtering cows and allowing more liquor licenses, which are seen as offending the local Islamic religious sentiment. Currently, the sale and consumption of alcohol are widely banned on the islands.
Other proposals include the disqualification of people with more than two children from the country’s council elections. The administration could also imprison any person without trial for up to a year, according to Patel’s proposals.
Sultana is part of thousands of islanders taking to social media since COVID-19 curbs prevented them from taking to the streets to protest.
COVID crisis on the island
In a Facebook post, Sultana defended her outburst against Patel on the TV show.
“I used the word bio-weapon in the TV channel’s debate. I felt Patel as his politician. [have acted] like a bioarm, ”he wrote.
“It is through Patel and its surroundings that COVID-19 spreads in Lakshadweep. I compare Patel as a bio-weapon, not the government or country …. You have to understand. What else should I call it? …”
Lakshadweep was left without coronavirus throughout 2020 due to the strict protocol required by its poor health infrastructure with only three hospitals for the 10 inhabited islands.
Patel is accused of aggravating the COVID-19 crisis in Lakshadweep by changing the quarantine protocol in January and allowing anyone to enter the island with a negative RT-PCR report obtained 48 hours before their trip.
A week after the rules were changed, the territory reported its first case of coronavirus on 17 January. As of Thursday, the island had recorded more than 9,000 cases and more than 40 deaths, according to news site Maktoob.
Director Aisha Sultana Lakhadweep
– Chhotubhai Vasava (Chhotu_Vasava) June 10, 2021
A Twitter campaign initiated by students has gained momentum across the Indian continent, with #SaveLakshadweep backed by leading politicians including the main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi.
This week, the group of residents, the Save Lakshadweep Forum, organized a one-day hunger strike to protest against new land acquisition plans that have raised fears of eviction among about 65,000 people ‘isule.
“For generations, we have lived a quiet life, rarely protesting the policies created on the continent … But if they take me to my land and my home, where will we all go?” fisherman Sakariya, who adopts a name, said by phone.
Like many local fishermen, his only advantage is the family home that his grandfather built on a plot of about 93 square meters (93 square meters) near the beach, in the island capital of Kavaratti.
“This is not a big city where people can be moved around. For us, it will probably mean having to move to the mainland. How can we allow someone to take our homes? he said.
Protesters also feared the plans could strain the island’s already limited public services including a lack of clean drinking water, health care and access to the mainland.
Police in Lakshadweep have filed sedition charges against director Aisha Sultana for claiming that the government has put in place Praful Khoda Patel as a “biological weapon” against people. This is an abuse of the law of sedition. BJP is destroying Lakshadweep & buldozing anyone raising their voice against it!
– Dr. Shama Mohamed (@drshamamohd) June 11, 2021
Lakshadweep administrator Praful Patel did not respond to a request for comment, but another senior official – collector S Akser Ali – told reporters recently that the aim was to develop the island. ” holistically ”with the well-being of residents in mind.
But distrust and anger towards the Hindu nationalist government in Muslim-majority territory is widespread.
The recent demolition by the authorities of the fishermen’s beach huts has only fueled distrust, said K Nizamuddin, who belongs to Kavaratti’s self-governing body, which has been rethought in development plans as it is a “smart city”.
Nizamuddin said part of the problem was that residents had not been properly informed of the plans.
“We have not been consulted and most islanders have no idea what the future holds. If drastic changes come, they should be informed on purpose, ”he said.
“In a smart city, there needs to be space for local fishermen and for traditional livelihoods, such as animal husbandry, to continue. Instead, authorities have broken down fishermen’s huts on the beach saying it violates the rules. So there is a mistrust. ”
In solidarity with Aisha Sultana. Voices of dissent cannot be suppressed using sedition. pic.twitter.com/kiwRL9R2z6
– Aishe (ঐশী) (@aishe_ghosh) June 11, 2021
According to the regulatory project pushed by Patel, residents will also need to obtain a planning permission before making even minor changes to their homes, said attorney R Rohith.
“In other regions, it may seem normal for the government to acquire land for projects, such as building a road, but on the islands, it’s just not done,” Rohith said, referring to laws aimed at protecting residents. island rights and fragile ecosystem.
Last month, the legislative assembly in Kerala, the nearest mainland state, adopted a motion calling for the removal of Patel and protection for the livelihood of the people.
“We have lived in this small strip of land for decades. We know the impact of disrupting this ecology better than anyone. The officers should be listening to us, ”said fisherman Sakariya.