LAKSHADWEEP:  HOW A LONG-AGO INVERTED DEMOGRAPHY HAS BECOME HURDLE IN DEVELOPMENT OF STRATEGIC ARCHIPELAGO

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The tiniest Union Territory of India, Lakshadweep is an archipelago consisting of 12 atolls, three reefs and five submerged banks.The name Lakshadweep in Malayalam and Sanskrit means ‘a hundred thousand islands’. Out of the present 36 islands only 10 islands are inhabited. It is only 496 kms from the coastal city of Kochi in Kerala.It is a uni-district Union Territory with an area of 32 Sq.Kms and is comprised of ten inhabited islands, 17 uninhabited islands attached islets, four newly formed islets and 5 submerged reefs. The inhabited islands are Kavaratti, Agatti, Amini, Kadmat, Kiltan, Chetlat, Bitra, Andrott, Kalpeni and Minicoy. Bitra is the smallest of all having only a population of 271 persons (Census 2011). The uninhabited island Bangaram has been enumerated during 2011 census operation and has a population of 61 persons.

According to the 2011 Census, Lakshadweep has a population of 64429 persons.Nearly 96% of the population who are Janajaatis, are Muslims and majority of them belong to the Shafi School of the Sunni Sect. Malayalam is spoken in all the islands except Minicoy where people speak Mahl which is written in Divehi script and is spoken in Maldives also. The entire janajati population has been classified as Scheduled Tribes because of their economic and social backwardness. According to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes list (modification orders), 1956, the inhabitants of Lakshadweep who and both of whose parents were born in these islands are treated as Scheduled Tribes. There are no Scheduled Castes in this Union Territory.

DEFENCE SET UP IN LAKSHADWEEP 

The Indian defence infrastructure in Lakshadweep has been enhanced over the years. In 2010, then defence minister A.K. Antony commissioned coast guard stations in Kavaratti and Minicoy, thus boosting the presence of the Indian Coast Guard. In 2012, the second Manmohan Singh government commissioned the first naval base in the islands—INS Dweeprakshak, in capital Kavaratti. In the same year, a coast guard station in Androth was commissioned. In 2016, a naval detachment was commissioned on Androth Island.

Besides surveillance, these detachments work as observance and reporting organisations. There are also plans for a fully operational navy base in Lakshadweep. A bigger facility on Minicoy is also under consideration, because of its proximity to the Maldives (71 nautical miles).

ADMINISTRATION’S PLAN TO DEVELOP IT AS INDIAN HAWAII & NARCO JIHAD

World renowned Hawaii is a state in the Western United States, located in the Pacific Ocean about 3,623.16 miles 5,830.92 kms from the US mainland. Hawaii comprises 8 major islands. The Praful K Patel administration wants to develop the archipelago as Indian Hawaii, attracting tourists who mostly see Maldives as the destination.

The picturesque group of 36 atolls famous for its rich biodiversity and blessed with the hue of natural opulence, was propped up in the news last year not for its turquoise water bodies but for the draft of reforms proposed by its Administrator, Praful Khoda Patel. Yes, Lakshadweep, ensconced on the southwestern tip of India, was up in arms against the Administrator. 

Radical groups such as the Popular Front of India have already infiltrated Lakshadweep. The geographical proximity of Lakshadweep to the Maldives and Sri Lanka increases the likelihood of the impact of political turmoil in these nations. Growing presence of China in the Indian Ocean and the age-old challenge posed by pirates in the Indian Ocean could make Lakshadweep a hotbed of criminals and anti-national activities. Last year, Rs 3000 crore worth of drugs were seized by the Coast Guard off Minicoy Island. A Sri Lankan fishing boat Ravihansi with 300 kgs Heroin and 5 AK-47 rifles with 1,000 live rounds was also caught by the security agencies. It is just a case ‘Narco Jihad’.

In 2019, there were intelligence reports which suggested the movement of 15 ISIS terrorists from Sri Lanka to the Lakshadweep Islands. Over the population of 64429 people there are only 349 policemen & 9 police stations.

This inadequate proportion also backs the anti-national crime to flourish.

SAMUDRI JIHAD

The 26/11 attack on Mumbai was the first maritime jihadi war in the modern times. Following this attack, India carried out a comprehensive review of coastal and island security. As a consequence, the vulnerability of Lakshadweep was found to be of great concern. Samudri Jihad is not for capture of territory. Island territories such as Lakshadweep can be used as a base to destabilize the mainland economically and physically by jihadi means. In the reckoning of jihadi organizations, which includes the Pakistani State, the vastness of the Indian Ocean provides huge scope for Narco Jihad. The frequency, scope and magnitude of this jihad against India is increasing.

TUNA FISH SCAM CASE

In July 2022, CBI received information relating to irregularities in the procurement of Massmeen (dry tuna fish) from fishermen of Lakshadweep Island during the year 2016-2017. Lakshadweep MP Md. Faizal Khan & his nephew reportedly gave false assurance of a higher rate and exported the same through M/s. Lakshadweep Co-operative Marketing Federation Ltd to Sri Lanka. On June 25, a combined surprise inspection was performed at the LCMF Ltd offices in Kavaratti (Lakshadweep) and Calicut (Kerala).

It is worth knowing that when the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) 2021 proposed a new law to ban cow slaughter and beef, which was in line with the prevailing law in most of the states in India. Opposing the proposals, MP Mohammed Faisal had said that eating beef was constitutional right of the people of Lakshadweep and that the new proposals were aimed at undermining the ‘Islamic character’ of the island where Muslims constitute 96% of the total population.

REFORMS BROUGHT BY PRAFUL PATEL ADMINISTRATION 

Alcohol and drug addiction among the youth in the UT has been on the rise. Immediately after assuming responsibility in December 2020, Praful Patel had conducted 18 raids across the UT to fight the growing menace.

Additionally, Goonda Act was imposed in the Union Territory to restrict the smuggling and distribution of alcohol and drugs.The administration also had pulled down Anti-CAA/NRC posters placed by radical Islamist outfits throughout the island.

Among the policies of the new administration that were being opposed are, banning candidates with more than 2 children from contesting Panchayat polls, a rule that is already in use in several states, the removal of illegal storage facilities along the coast, and the strict order to boat owners against leasing/renting their boats to individuals without proper permission from authorities.

NEXUS THAT FUELLED PROTESTS

Ayesha Sultana, a Lakshdweep based filmmaker, who hails from Chetiah island had alleged that the Central government used biological weapons for the spread of COVID-19 in Lakshadweep.

However, BJP’s Lakshdweep unit president Abdul Khader filed a complaint against the anti-national filmmaker. According to the FIR lodged by the Kavaratti police, a case under sections 124 A (sedition) and 153 B (hate speech) of the Indian Penal code was registered against the filmmaker.

CPIM leader and Rajya Sabha MP Elamanam Kareem & Kerala Indian National Congress leader V T Balram extended their support to orthodox protesters.

As protests flare-up in the region, actor Prithviraj Sukumaran came out in the support of the people of the Union Territory drawing the attention of the authorities.

THE ROOT CAUSE: AN INVERTED DEMOGRAPHY

The islands of present-day Lakshadweep were first mentioned by a Greek sailor in the 1st century CE as a source of tortoise shell.

The initial native culture of the islands was Dharmic in nature. Author Bichitranand Sinha states in his book ‘Geo-economic survey of Lakshdweep’ that Architecture of old mosques there is influenced by ancient Hindu temples. The matrilineal Marumakkathayam system of inheritance which prevails in present muslim people was once a key character of native population.

The advent of Islam dates back to the 7th century around the year 41 Hijra. An Arab Fakeer named Ubaidullah travelled all the way to Amini island to propagate Islam through a self-woven tale that Prophet Mohammad commanded him to do so in his dream. He was able to inveigle a young woman in his love and married her giving her new name Hadeemat Beebi. This enraged natives so both escaped to Adrott island. There they faced same opposition initially but later were able to convert natives to Islam through flattery. From this island they went to left ones & preached of Islam.  At last, he returned to Adrott died and got buried. There is still a Marabout or Mukbara.

SUCCESSION OF COMMANDS THAT RULED 

Local traditions attribute the first settlement on these islands to the period of Cheraman Perumal, the last king of Kerala. It is believed that after his conversion to Islam, at the behest of some Arab merchants, he slipped out of his capital Cranganore, the present day Kodungallor – an old harbour town Kochi, for Mecca. When his disappearance was discovered, search parties went after him in sailing boats and left for the shores of Mecca, in search of the king from different places. It is believed that one of these sailing boats of Raja of Cannanore was struck by a fierce storm and they were shipwrecked on the island now known as Bangaram. From there they went to the nearby island of Agatti. Finally the weather improved and they returned to the mainland sighting other islands on their way. It is said that after their return another party of sailors and soldiers discovered the island of Amini and started living there. It is believed that the people sent there were Hindus. Even now unmistakable Hindu Social stratification exists in these islands despite Islam. Legends say that small settlements started in the Islands of Amini, Kavaratti, Andrott and Kalpeni first and later people from these islands moved to the other islands of Agatti, Kiltan, Chetlat and Kadmat.

Muslim missionary activity in the 7th century and continued contact with Arab traders eventually led to the conversion of all the islanders to Islam. Sometime before 1100 a small Hindu kingdom on the Malabar Coast won the islands, and after the fall of the Kulashekhara dynasty of Kerala in 1102 they passed to the Kolathiris, another small Hindu dynasty. Later in the 12th century, after a Kolathiri princess married a Muslim convert, a separate kingdom (including the islands that eventually formed Lakshadweep) was set up in the Kannur(Cannanore) area of Kerala in order to protect the Keralan tradition of matrilineal descent.

It is possible that the first European to visit the islands was the Italian explorer Marco Polo—if the “female island” mentioned in his 13th-century travelogues was indeed Minicoy Island, as some have speculated. In 1498 the Portuguese arrived in the islands. They subsequently built a fort to control trade, particularly in coir. Residents of the islands staged an uprising in 1545.

Successive bibis (female muslim rulers) and their husbands ruled the islands until control of the northern group of islands, the Amindivis, passed to Tipu Sultan, the bigot sultan of Mysore, on the mainland, in the 1780s. When Tipu was killed in battle with the British in 1799, the Amindivis came under British control. The bibi and her husband were permitted to retain the other islands and receive income from them in exchange for an annual payment to the British. These payments repeatedly were in arrears, and in 1908 the bibi ceded to the British direct administration of these islands. Sovereignty was transferred to India on Indian independence in 1947, and the islands were constituted a union territory in 1956.

FIGHTING ABRAHIMIC ORTHODOXY: INSTALLING FIRST IDOL IN ARCHIPELAGO

In Oct 2022, Rajnath Singh unveiled the first statue of MK Gandhi in Lakshadweep on the occasion of the latter’s 152nd birth anniversary. The figurine installed in Kavaratti Island is a six-foot tall bronze statue of Gandhi.

About 11 years ago, an attempt was made by the Congress-led UPA regime to install a bust of Gandhi on the islands. A Rs 2 lakh statue of MK Gandhi was sent to Lakshadweep in the vessel MV Amindivi to be installed at Kavaratti in September 2010.However, the bust of MK Gandhi could not be offloaded at Lakshadweep as Muslims objected to the installation of any such statues citing Sharia Law. They protested that it will promote idol worship & Hinduism. However, the administration hid the matter pretending it was due to bad weather.

The battle in Lakshadweep is between Developmental Reformism and Abrahimic Orthodoxy. However, it is just the commencement of war against Abrahimic Bigotry that prevails in the archipelago.

Sources :

1. Geo-economic survey of Lakshadweep – Bichitranand Sinha

2. Britannica.com

3.HISTORICAL ASPECTS OF LAKSHADWEEP

Dr.Baiju K.Nath

Assistant Professor, Dept. of Education, University of Calicut

Kerala, India

and

Sayyid Ali Akbar

M.Ed. Student (2012-13)

Dept. of Education, University of Calicut

4. The String

Image sourced from internet

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