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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 24, New Delhi, May 29, 2021

Lifelong Learning To Prevent Annihilation of Indigenous Culture In Lakshadweep | Ratheesh Kaliyadan

Saturday 29 May 2021

by Dr. Ratheesh Kaliyadan *

Lifelong education fosters active and informed citizenship which is one of the crucial protective measures in a misinformed and threat posed democracy (UIL, 2020). There are many kinds of pathways for misinformation flow. Ruling environment generated ones and opposition generated ones are the two ways of misinformation transmissions. Lakshadweep becomes an experimental epicenter of both pathways. This smallest Union Territory of India, earlier known as Laccadive Islands, made up of 39 islands; there are twelve atolls, three reefs, and five submerged banks. The name Lakshadweep in Malayalam and Sanskrit means ‘a hundred thousand islands’. It’s one of the beautiful places in the world with the sun touching the sea coast, lush green landscape, and abundance of lagoons which has its own tribal Muslim cult and rituals where the islands have a population of over 60,000 people, and 99% belong to the tribal Muslim community. The people of these islands in the Arabian sea basically lead calm and quiet lives, enjoying the breeze of the Arabian Sea on the sandy beaches. The absence of a rushed life is the epitome of island life. In history, there were few agitations, arrests, and violent protests against any of the governmental decisions. It is one of the rarest places where prisons stay vacant most days, even throughout the year. The majority of cells are not yet used! Lakshadweepians wake in the festival of democracy and live the whole day by enjoying its beauty of dissenting and learning how to lead such a gentle life. Democratic discussions, cultural expressions, and arguments on a wide range of topics including religion, rituals, governance, and rights are the way of political activities in these islands. Innocent behavior, high-end hospitality, and decent narratives on religion and culture make an attractive part of the Dweep life.

The capital of Lakshadweep, Kavaratti along with all other islands becomes the stage of protests against “anti-people” governmental decisions on the part of the administrator. The hashtag #SaveLakshadweep has been spotted on social media to protest against the “destroying” decisions. Following the alarming hashtag, political leaders in and around the islands including in Kerala started to protest against the administrator’s autocratic interventions (The Hindu, 2021). The disputes began when the newly appointed administrator Praful Khoda Patel reflected elements of autocratic leadership curtailing the powers of the Lakshadweep District Panchayat in December 2020 (Gitika Mantri, 2021). He came up with drafts of several reforms such as the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, and an amendment to the Lakshadweep Panchayat Staff Rules. To safeguard the administrator’s decisions, the pro-administration fraction in the government makes propaganda on subsistence use, goondaism, and looting, and civil code disobediences. On the other hand, groups of Muslim sympathizers on the forefront of propagating Patel’s anti-muslim face projecting his previous activities in Gujarat and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Both campaigns have a tone of misinformation and consciously framed agendas. According to the Patel fans, this anti-muslim image development industry is an output of the “Islamists outlook”.

Annihilation of the Culture

The unique selling point of Lakshadweep culture is women’s dominance in social life, power of attorney of land, and strong religious background footing on Islam customs and traditions. The ancient mother Hawa’s eye is a metaphor used to mark the crescent. A ballad popular among the islanders says “crescent just like the eye of the Hawabeevi. This metaphor can’t be seen anywhere other than the Lakshadweep ballads. It means, the women are prominent in their cultural life, which is a unique factor in social strata other than these island communities.

Endangering cultural survival strategies may work through Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation by acquisition of land for development functions and handing over them to business tycoons other than Lakshadweepians. This reform, which once in effect, would allow for “orderly and progressive development of land in both urban and rural areas and to preserve and improve the amenities thereof; for the grant of permission to develop land and for other powers of control over the use of land; to confer additional powers in respect of the acquisition and development of land for planning”.

The regulation would also allow for building, engineering, mining, quarrying, and other such operations on the ecologically rich and sensitive islands under its definition of “development”. The regulation also allows for a ‘plan’ that will indicate land or zones that can be identified for parks, industries, residential or commercial use, national highways, and arterial roads, and so on. Under section 72, it also gives power to the Planning and Development Authority to evict anyone who is found to occupy land under a final scheme formulated under the proposed law. “If the Planning and Development Authority is opposed or impeded in evicting such person or taking possession of the land from such person, the District Magistrate shall, at the request of the Planning and Development Authority, enforce the eviction of such person or secure delivery of possession of the land to the Planning and Development Authority,” the draft says.
Regarding the food culture, meat especially, beef constitutes a major component of the eatables. Along with religious connotations, the geographical features contribute in this regard. The administrator has also allegedly closed down all dairy farms operated by the Animal Husbandry Department. This action leads to dual impacts. Firstly, it denies jobs for those working in these sectors. Secondly, the draft law intends to ban slaughter, transportation, and selling or buying of beef products in the name of ‘animal preservation’ which is directly connected to the Sangh Parivar ideology of banning cow slaughter.

Islanders also say that Patel has also directed to cut the non-vegetarian menu from midday meals in schools. “It is not that we were self-sufficient, we were dependent on the mainland. But that doesn’t mean that we can be taken for granted. Things were all fine until December 2020. Now they say that our children won’t get non-veg dishes as their midday meals. Until now, over the years, kids were served non-veg dishes. Unlike in the mainland, we don’t get good vegetables here. Non-vegetarian food and beef are a part of our culture,” (Gitika Mantri, 2021). Residents of Lakshadweep echo the same voice against the decision to ban beef. “Every celebration we gather together in the village houses. We don’t have celebrations at home even during Eid. When these amendments are implemented, we will not be able to have a peaceful life.” (Gitika Mantri, 2021)

Once again beef comes on the center stage of political disputes and seeking the attention of cultural analysts in Lakshadweep too along with other subjects. As part of lifelong learning, right now these island people realize that the beef ban efforts and Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation may adversely affect the long-cherished life and culture of the islanders. In a sense, the regulation may have a power to be threatened the cultural suppression which is one of the targeted agendas of Hindutwa forces.

No education, No job

According to reports, the administration terminated 500 casual workers and temporary employees in the Lakshadweep government offices. The majority of them have many years of service and some have more than ten years of service as either casual workers or temporary employees. Recruitment of regular vacancies stopped whereas more than 800 regular posts are lying vacant in various departments (Mohammed Kasim, 2021).
Violating the provisions of Right To Education Act 2009 and RTE Rules 2010 framed and notified in Lakshadweep, the Lakshadweep administration closed 15 schools. It includes 2 High Schools, 4 Senior Basic Schools, 7 Junior Basic Schools and 2 Nursery schools spread in Amini, Agatti, Kadamath, Kiltan, and Minicoy islands (Mohammed Kasim, 2021). The reports indicate that another 10 to 15 schools are under the process of being shut down in the remaining islands. As part of these actions, more than 40 teachers are terminated and their livelihood was denied. As per the Lakshdweep Panchayat Regulation 1994, the school administration is a devolved activity to the District Panchayat. The administration violated this rule to taken the decision to close down the schools without proper consultation with the District Panchayat authorities and the council.

Widening roads for house raze

The majority of people use bicycles to cover the land area and a few use two-wheeler motorcycles. They need cycle paths, but most Dweep interiors are connected with roads. Usually, there is no need for four-wheel vehicles in the island. The only four-wheel vehicle in the majority of the islands is an ambulance owned by the Panchayat. But Patel administration has already given orders to widen the roads and raze houses for the same. The News Minute quotes the islanders: “The islands already have space constraints. Many families will just have one house, what if they lose that? Some islands are just 500 meters wide, so if they acquire land to widen, these people will have to live by the sea," said the local people representatives.

Curtails Kerala linkage

Kerala is one of the noted destinations of the Sangh Parivar. The ten inhabited islands comprising Lakshadweep located around 150 to 200 nautical miles from Kochi. Almost all the islands speak Jeseri, a dialect of Malayalam (the only exception is Minicoy, where they speak Mahal). The islanders largely depend on Kerala for routine activities including referred medical assistance, procurement of daily life materials, exchanging goods and services, freight transit and higher education, etc. The Dweep Administrator’s new decisions are also allegedly meant to cut Lakshadweep’s links with Kerala (Elamaram Kareem, 2021). According to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, reports from Lakshadweep are “serious”, and the situation is a threat to the life and culture of the islands’ residents. “Kerala and Lakshadweep is mutually dependent.
Through education, employment, medical treatment, and trade we are connected to each other. But now, there are attempts being made to destroy this connection. Such stands are taken on narrow thoughts. The authorities should withdraw from such attempts”. The latest development in this regard is imposing limitation to the usage of Air Ambulance services to those have a sanction order from a newly constituted committee instead of the recommendation by the doctor.

Plea against the administrator

Political parties including the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Indian National Congress, National Congress Party, Indian Union Muslim League etc in both Lakshadweep and Kerala (The Hindu, 2021) along with community organizations like Kerala Muslim Jamaat already expressed plea against the administrator. Civil society representatives, cultural activists, and film personae also expressed their dissent against the administrator’s reforms.

Sangh Parivar versions

Preventing the protestors’ plea against the administrator Patel, BahartiyaJanata Party Kerala state president termed the agitators as “Muslim extremists” and “Jihadis”. As usual, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh denied the protestors’ demands projecting that “Islamists instigating people against the administration in Lakshadweep” and claim that they have the “get backing from Kerala Politicians” and “Islamists have accused Patel of undermining the ‘Islamic character’ of Lakshadweep” through its mouth organ the Organizer. At the same time, the Bhartiya Janata Party Lakshadweep unit has a reverse view on the matter. Pointing out that the decisions of the administrator is “unilateral”, and the situation is “pathetic”, the general secretary H K Mohammed Kasim requested Prime Minister NarendraModi to “take an urgent review of functions of the Lakshadweep administration”.

Pro Patel propaganda

Sangh Parivar sympathizers and the Patel fans are immensely active to push their counter-attack in social media, grapevine campaigns, and in mainstream media. The major thrusts of the campaigns are:

i) There are reports of illegal berthing of foreign vessels near Lakshadweep.
ii) The Intelligence Bureau (IB) had raised concerns about the poor handling of foreign vessels by the police agencies.
iii) There were intelligence reports regarding the movement of 15 ISIS terrorists from Sri Lanka to the Lakshadweep Islands in 2019
iv) Recently, Rs 3000 crore worth of drugs were seized by Coast Guard off Minicoy Island.
v) 300 Kgs Heroin and 5 AK-47 rifles with 1,000 live rounds were recovered from Sri Lankan fishing boat Ravihansi.
vi) The administrator had decided to relax the rules of a total prohibition on the Island to optimize the tourism in Lakshadweep which is an utmost necessity for income generation. (Organizer, 2021)

Scope of Lifelong Learning

Manufacturing consent is the major intention of them both groups. Political vigil and focused analytical skill may help the Lakshdweepians to differentiate misinformation. Critical discourse analysis of contemporary propaganda and campaign contexts in Lakshadweep points out the architecture of an insightful strategy to be implemented in Lakshadweep focusing on digital literacy, critical media education, and fact check mechanisms.

(Author: Dr. Ratheesh Kaliyadan is the Executive Director, State Council for Open and Lifelong Education (SCOLE)-Kerala)


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3. Islamists instigating people against the administration in Lakshadweep, get backing from Kerala Politicians, Organizer, 24-May-2021
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