In the wake of criticisms against Lakshadweep Union Territory administrator Praful Khoda Patel and contentious regulations on the islands, the Kavaratti Police registered a case of sedition on Thursday against Aisha Sultana, a filmmaker and actor from island and one of the dissenters at the helm of the protests over her remarks against Patel’s mismanagement of COVID-19 pandemic in the islands.
The FIR was registered under the charges of IPC 124A (Sedition) and 153B (Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) on the basis of a written complaint by C Abdul Khader Haji, the chief of BJP unit in Lakshadweep.
Khader Haji alleged that during a TV channel discussion on June 7, Sultana had said that the Union Government used a bio-weapon in Lakshadweep.
Aisha Sultana had participated in Malayalam news channel Media One’s prime time debate on the issue on June 7, where she made the remarks against COVID-19 mismanagement of current Lakshadweep administration.
“The island was COVID-free until Patel came leading to the outbreak of the disease,” she said, reacting to the hate campaigns and police complaints against her. She said that despite being aware of the dilapidated healthcare system on the island, the administrator paid no heed and demoted the medical director. “I compared him to a bio-weapon,” she said, referring to the statements she made in the show. “My comments were not made against the Union Government. I implied the biological impacts of the regulations heralded in by the administrator on the native population,” she added.
Lakshadweep had remained COVID-free throughout 2020 because of the strict guidelines. But Patel is accused of exacerbating the COVID-19 crisis in Lakshadweep after he changed the guidelines in January by allowing anyone entry into the islands with a negative RT-PCR report obtained 48 hours before their travel. A week after the rules were changed, the territory reported its first coronavirus case on January 17. Until Thursday, the island had recorded close to 9002 total cases, with nearly 42 deaths. There are only three hospitals for the 10 inhabited islands in Lakshadweep.
Condemning the attack on dissent, Lakshadweep Sahithya Pravarthaka Sangham, a collective of authors and cultural activists in Lakshadweep, brought out a statement vowing solidarity to the filmmaker’s stance.
“We appreciate Aisha Sultana for speaking about the atrocities committed by the administrator to the media,” the statement read.
Dweep Diary, Lakshadweep’s only news portal wrote an editorial on Wednesday in solidarity with the filmmaker.
The case comes on the heels of a similar complaint made by the Thrissur BJP district president. Alleging that Sultana made a seditious remark during the TV channel discussion, K.K. Aneesh Kumar had lodged a complaint with the Kerala Police. “Her remarks are punishable under the Indian Penal Code, Epidemic Diseases Act, and Disaster Management Act,” he stated.
Aisha Sultana, who has worked with several Malayalam filmmakers including Lal Jose, is making her independent directorial debut with ‘Flush.’
A woman filmmaker is a first in Lakshadweep’s history. Aisha has previously worked as an associate director on the Asif Ali film Kettyolaanu Ente Malaakha.
Lakshadweep newly-appointed administrator Patel’s recent decisions and draconian regulations have caused discontent in the Muslim-majority islands.
He has been accused of implementing Goonda Act in a place where least number of violent crimes reported in the country, banning beef products in a place the meat is widely consumed, demolishing fishermen’s sheds in coastal areas for violating the Coast Guard Act and revoking restrictions on the consumption of alcohol.
The former Gujarat BJP Minister of State for Home Praful Patel said to be very close to the Prime Minister’s office, RSS and BJP leadership.