On Sunday, 38-year-old Naseer from Kavaratti island in Lakshadweep, who sat in the verandah of his wife’s house saw beacon lights flashing by as a row of the police vehicles, led by the Superintendent of Police passed through the main road as part of a flag march before Lakshadweep administrator Praful K Patel’s visit. On the next day, Naseer joined the hundreds of other islanders who chose to welcome the administrator wearing black robes, holding black flags and placards instead of the usual garlands and traditional art forms.
Around noon, Naseer along with six members in his family, dressed in black, went to the adjacent plot owned by his mother-in-law and hung a black flag on coconut trees facing the main road where the administrator’s vehicle was supposed to pass. A few minutes later, police and CRPF officers came in two jeeps and ordered him to remove the flag. “I told them that they painted our coconut tree trunks in saffron colour without my consent. So why do I need to seek their permission to hang a black flag? As I started taking the video, they left. The flag is still there,” Naseer told Maktoob. Naseer was referring to a bizarre move by the administration to paint the tree trunks in Lakshadweep with saffron and white colour.
Almost all of the islanders have observed June 14 as black day from 6 AM to 6 PM protesting the administrator’s first visit since he proposed the draconian regulations in the archipelago. The protest was organised by the Save Lakshadweep Forum, which consists of representatives from all political parties in Lakshadweep. The main demand of the forum is to repeal the contentious draft regulations including the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 (LDAR) and the Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation Act. The Forum also demands the administration to revoke the orders including the move to deport the permit holders from the mainland.
“It’s the first time in the history of Lakshadweep, people received an administrator with black flags and massive protest. People wore black masks, black clothes, black badges and hold black flags and placards in their hands. In many places, police had instructed the people to remove the flags. But none of us obeyed them,” Salim KP, Save Lakshadweep Forum social media convenor told Maktoob.
“Dweep is under Khoda virus, fight Corona with vaccine, fight Khoda with democracy”, “Call back Khoda Patel”, “Rollback anti-people, anti-environment laws and reforms”, “Go back Praful Patel”… read some of the messages in the placards. In Andrott island, people even made their cattle to participate in the protest by hanging placards around their neck, asking Patel to repeal the undemocratic reforms.
“The administrator even evaded the Kerala MPs Hibi Eden and TN Prathapan who was set to meet him in Kochi. Fearing demonstrations from Kerala, Patel took a special aircraft through the Goan route and landed Agatti Monday afternoon instead of taking the usual Kochi- Lakshadweep route” Salim alleged.
Responding to the call for the protest, the student community, who spearheaded the Save Lakshadweep movement in social media, also joined the protest in large numbers. “Students are the integral part of any movements happening in the country. The Lakshadweep movement also gathered international attention after the intervention of the islands’ student community. They ensured the participation of family members in the movement by advocating through WhatsApp and social media campaigns. The Save Lakshadweep Forum has agreed to include a student representative in Forum from each island soon,” 22 year-old Safarulla, general secretary of the central committee of Lakshadweep Students Association (LSA) told Maktoob.
According to Minicoy Panchayat Vice-Chairperson Muneer Manikfan, many Lakshadweep residents who stay on the mainland participated in the protest. “The Lakshadweep people who reside in every nook and corner of the country participated in the protest by wearing black clothes. Many of the residents in Minicoy who works in foreign countries had uploaded their photos in social media” Manikfan said.
In a recent development, Manikfan added, that the president, secretary and the treasurer of the BJP from Minicoy island resigned from the party protesting the “unfortunate current public circumstances in Minicoy island and Lakshadweep.” At least 50 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members in Lakshadweep, including the general secretary, have submitted their resignation since May protesting the Union Territory administration’s draconian regulations and the saffron party’s response in dealing with the islanders’ concern.
Most of the resigned BJP members participated in the protest, although the majority of the existing members refused to cooperate with the black day. “Out of the 13 people who resigned from Chetlat Island protesting the sedition case against Aisha Sultana, at least 10 of us participated in the protest. The administrator must recall his anti-people and anti-democratic reforms. He is planning to grab our land in the name of development and to increase the width of the road. He is creating an unwanted problem, Saifullah Pakkiyoda, Lakshadweep Khadi Board member who resigned from the BJP, told Maktoob.
Chetlat island is the native place of filmmaker Aisha Sultana, who recently got slapped with sedition following the BJP state president’s complaint for allegedly referring administrator Praful Patel as a ‘bio weapon’ during a television discussion.
Sultana, wearing a black mask and black Kurta, posted on Facebook, “No longer will we, the people of Lakshadweep tolerate fascism. We will stand against totalitarian policies, and we will survive this siege on Lakshadweep. As long as fascism tries to discriminate, my voice will never abate.”
Meanwhile, the administrator who reached Agatti island on Monday afternoon met top officials in the administration and reviewed the progress of various development projects, according to his tweet. Patel’s programs included a visit to the proposed site for the sea-facing hospital in Kavaratti and to review the smart city project there. Patel will also attend PowerPoint presentations on power privatisation, eco-friendly tourism water villa projects, hospitals, smart city project, schools, and Kavaratti Heli base.
Although the hunger strike and the black day protest got media attention and solidarity in the mainland, many islanders believe that the movement must be intensified.
“The leaders are dictating the protest from Cochin, they must return to know the ground reality. Instead of confining the protest inside homes, people need to come out in the streets to protest,” CPI Lakshadweep state secretary and Save Lakshadweep Forum deputy coordinator CT Najmuddin told Maktoob.
“Be it farmers’ protests or the George Floyd protests, people broke the COVID protocols to protest. The COVID cases were at their peak at that moment. Still, people came out in the streets for protest. A revolution is not possible if we subject to the administration’s guidelines and protocols,” Najmuddin said.