Police in India’s Lakshadweep Islands have charged a local filmmaker with sedition after calling the federal land administrator a “biological weapon” used by the government against islanders.
The case against Aisha Sultana was recorded at a police station on the main and capital island of Lakshadweep, Kavaratti, following a complaint filed by a local politician belonging to the Prime Minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Narendra Modi, Indian media reported on Friday.
The BJP complaint cited a Malayalam TV show about the government’s controversial plans in Lakshadweep, in which Sultana allegedly said the Modi government was using the islands administrator, Praful Khoda Patel, as a “biological weapon” .
Lakshadweep police recorded FIR against filmmaker Aisha Sultana for sedition and hate speech after she, during a televised debate, said the central government deployed COVID-19 as a “biological weapon” against residents by Lakshadweep
– ANI (@ANI) June 11, 2021
Patel, 63, is the first unbureaucratic administrator of the Lakshadweep Islands and previously served as Home Secretary in Modi’s home state of Gujarat when the Prime Minister of India was his chief minister for more than a decade.
The Lakshadweep Islands – popular with tourists – are run by an administrator appointed by the President of India.
Since taking control of the Lakshadweep administration in December last year, Patel has pushed through a slew of new laws and proposals – without consulting locally elected officials – in India’s only Muslim-majority territory outside of Kashmir under Indian administration.
Lakshadweep is an idyllic archipelago of 36 islands – 10 of which are inhabited – spread over an area of 32 square kilometers in the sea, about 200 km (124 miles) off the southwest coast of the Indian peninsula.
It is the smallest of India’s eight ‘Union Territories’ (UT), with a population of 65,000 people – 97% of whom are Muslims – who now fear losing their lands, livelihoods and more. rights while the government supports development plans for the remote archipelago as a tourist hub.
New town planning laws proposed to make way for tourism, luxury housing and deep-sea mining projects would give Patel the power to remove or relocate islanders from areas intended for development by declaring land as areas. of “planning”.
Other controversial proposals range from banning the slaughter of cows to allowing more alcohol permits, which is seen as an offense to local Islamic religious sentiment. Currently, the sale and consumption of alcohol is largely prohibited on the islands.
Other proposals include the exclusion of people with more than two children from village council elections. The administration could also jail anyone without trial for up to a year, according to Patel’s proposals.
Sultana is among thousands of islanders who are turning to social media as COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from taking to the streets to protest.
COVID crisis on the islands
In a Facebook post, Sultana defended her outburst against Patel on the TV show.
“I had used the word biological weapon in the debate on the TV channel. I felt Patel as well as his policies [have acted] like a biological weapon, ”she wrote.
“It was through Patel and his entourage that COVID-19 spread to Lakshadweep. I compared Patel as a biological weapon, not the government or the country…. You should understand. What else should I call him? … “
Lakshadweep had remained coronavirus-free throughout 2020 due to the strict protocol made necessary by its poor health infrastructure with only three hospitals for the 10 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.
A week after the rules were changed, the territory reported its first case of the coronavirus on January 17. As of Thursday, the island had recorded more than 9,000 cases and more than 40 deaths, according to the Maktoob news site.
Filmmaker Aisha Sultana Lakhadweep
– Chhotubhai Vasava (Chhotu_Vasava) June 10, 2021
A student-initiated Twitter campaign has gained traction on the Indian mainland, with #SaveLakshadweep supported by prominent politicians, including the main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi.
This week, the residents’ group, the Save Lakshadweep Forum, staged a day-long hunger strike to protest against new land acquisition plans that have raised eviction fears among the estimated 65,000 residents of the he is.
“For generations we have lived quiet lives, rarely protesting against policies created on the continent… But if they take away my land and my home, where will we all go? fisherman Sakariya, who uses only one name, said over the phone.
Like many local fishermen, his only trump card is the family home his grandfather built on approximately 1,000 square feet (93 square meters) of land near the beach in the island capital of Kavaratti.
“It’s not a big city where people can be relocated nearby. For us, that will likely mean having to relocate to the mainland. How can we allow anyone to take our homes? he said.
Protesters also fear the plans will strain the islands’ already limited public services, including lack of clean water, healthcare and access to the mainland.
Lakshadweep police are laying sedition charges against filmmaker Aisha Sultana for claiming that the government deployed Praful Khoda Patel as a “biological weapon” against people. This is an abuse of the law on sedition. The BJP destroys Lakshadweep and bulldozes anyone who speaks out against him!
– 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 – recently told reporters the goal was to develop the islands “holistically. ”With the well-being of residents in mind.
But mistrust and anger towards the Hindu nationalist government in predominantly Muslim territory is widespread.
The recent demolition by the authorities of the fishermen’s beach huts has only fueled mistrust, said K Nizamuddin, who belongs to the Kavaratti autonomous body, which is being reimagined in development plans. like a “smart city”.
Nizamuddin said part of the problem was that residents had not been properly informed about the plans.
“We were not consulted and most islanders have no idea what the future holds. If drastic changes happen, they should be informed, ”he said.
“In a smart city, there has to be room for local fishermen and for traditional livelihoods like raising animals to continue. Instead, authorities broke down fishermen’s sheds on the beach saying it violated standards. So there is mistrust.
In solidarity with Aisha Sultana. Dissenting voices cannot be suppressed by using sedition. pic.twitter.com/kiwRL9R2z6
– Aishe (ঐশী) (@aishe_ghosh) June 11, 2021
Under Patel’s proposed regulation, residents would also have to obtain a building permit before making even minor changes to their homes, lawyer R Rohith said.
“In other areas it may seem normal for the government to acquire land for projects, like building a road, but in the islands it is just not being done,” Rohith said, referring laws to protect the rights of islanders and the fragile ecosystem.
Last month, the legislature of Kerala, the closest mainland state, passed a motion demanding Patel’s removal and protection of people’s livelihoods.
“We have lived in this small strip of land for decades. We know better than anyone the impact of disrupting this ecology. The authorities should listen to us, ”said fisherman Sakariya.