Police in India’s Lakshadweep Islands have accused a local filmmaker of sedition after she called the federal territory administrator a “biological weapon” that the government used against island residents.
The case against Aisha Sultana was registered at a police station on the main island and capital of Lakshadweep, Kavaratti, following a complaint from a local politician of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to van reported the Indian media on Friday.
The BJP’s complaint cited a program on the Malayalam TV channel about the controversial government plans in Lakshadweep, during which Sultana said the Modi government was using the islands’ administrator, Praful Khoda Patel, as a “biological weapon”.
Lakshadweep police have registered a FIR against filmmaker Aisha Sultana accused of sedition and hate speech after, during a televised debate, he said the central government had deployed 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 the Lakshadweep Islands and served as interior minister of the home state of Modi, Gujarat, when the Indian prime minister was its chief minister. for more than a decade.
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 driven one a lot of new laws and proposals – without consulting locally elected representatives – in the only Muslim-majority territory in India apart from Indian-administered Kashmir.
Lakshadweep is an idyllic archipelago of 36 islands, 10 of them inhabited, spread over an area of 32 square kilometers to the sea, about 200 km 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% of them Muslims, who now fear losing their land, livelihoods and others. rights, as the government supports plans to develop the remote archipelago as a resort.
The new urban planning laws proposed to give rise to tourism projects, luxury housing and high-altitude mines, would give Patel the power to eliminate or move the islanders from areas for development by declaring the land as “planning” areas. .
Other controversial proposals range from banning the slaughter of cows and granting more liquor licenses, which are considered offensive to the local Islamic religious sentiment. Currently, the sale and consumption of alcohol is largely banned on the islands.
Other proposals include the disqualification of people with more than two children from elections to village councils. The administration could also imprison anyone without trial for up to a year, according to Patel’s proposals.
Sultana is among thousands of islanders who go to social media, as the sidewalk of COVID-19 prevents them from taking to the streets to protest.
COVID crisis in the islands
In a post on Facebook, Sultana defended her outburst against Patel on the TV show.
“I had used the word bioarm in the debate on the television channel. I have heard Patel as well as his policies [have acted] as a biological weapon, ”he wrote.
“It was through Patel and its surroundings that COVID-19 spread to Lakshadweep. I compared Patel as a biological weapon, not the government or the country … You should understand that. How much more should I call you? … ”
Lakshadweep had remained coronavirus-free throughout 2020 due to the strict protocol its poor health infrastructure needed, with only three hospitals for the ten inhabited islands.
Patel is accused of exacerbating the COVID-19 crisis in Lakshadweep by changing the quarantine protocol in January and allowing anyone to enter the islands with a negative RT-PCR report obtained 48 hours before their trip.
One week after changing the rules, 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 the Maktoob news website.
Filmmaker Aisha Sultana Lakhadweep
– Chhotubhai Vasava (Chhotu_Vasava) June 10, 2021
A student-initiated Twitter campaign has gained strength on the Indian mainland, with #SaveLakshadweep backed by prominent politicians, including main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi.
This week, the resident group, the Save Lakshadweep forum, staged a one-day hunger strike to protest new land acquisition plans that have sparked fears of eviction among the island’s approximately 65,000 people.
“For generations, we have lived quiet lives, rarely protesting against the policies created on the mainland … But if they take away my land and house, where will we all go?” said by phone the fisherman Sakariya, who uses a name.
Like many local fishermen, his only asset is the family home his grandfather built on a 93-square-meter (93-square-meter) plot near the beach in the island’s capital, Kavaratti.
“It’s not a big city where people can be relocated nearby. For us, it would probably mean having to move to the mainland. How can we allow someone to take our homes? He said.
Protesters also fear plans may bolster the island’s already limited public services, which include a lack of clean drinking water, health care and access to the mainland.
Lakshadweep police have filed charges of sedition against filmmaker Aisha Sultana for saying the government deployed Praful Khoda Patel as a “biological weapon” against the people. This is an abuse of the law on sedition. BJP is destroying Lakshadweep and bulldozing anyone who raises their voice against it.
– Dr. Shama Mohamed (@drshamamohd) June 11, 2021
Praful Patel, administrator of Lakshadweep, did not respond to any requests for comment, but another senior official, collector S Akser Ali, told reporters recently that the goal was to develop the islands “holistically” taking into account account for the well-being of residents.
But distrust and anger towards the Hindu nationalist government in Muslim-majority territory are widespread.
The recent demolition of fishermen’s beach huts by the authorities has only fueled distrust, said K Nizamuddin, who belongs to Kavaratti’s self-governing body, which is reinventing itself in development plans as a “smart city”. ligent “.
Nizamuddin said part of the problem was that residents had not been properly informed of the plans.
“They haven’t consulted us and most of the islanders have no idea what the future will bring. If drastic changes come, they should be told,” he said.
“In a smart city, there has to be room for local fishermen and to continue traditional livelihoods, such as raising animals. Instead, authorities have broken the sheds of fishermen on the beach saying that it violates the rules, so there is mistrust. “
In solidarity with Aisha Sultana. Dissenting voices cannot be suppressed through the use of sedition. pic.twitter.com/kiwRL9R2z6
– Aishe (ঐশী) (@aishe_ghosh) June 11, 2021
According to the draft of the regulations pushed by Patel, residents should also obtain the planning permission before making even minor changes to their home, said lawyer 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 is simply not done,” Rohith said, referring to laws aimed at protecting the rights of islanders and fragile ecosystem.
Last month, the legislature of Kerala, the nearest mainland state, passed a motion demanding the withdrawal of Patel and protection for people’s livelihood.
“We have been living in this small strip of land for decades. We know better than anyone the impact of disrupting this ecology. Officials should listen to us, “said fisherman Sakariya.