We write this in deep anguish and fear. We fear for our community, the land we belong to and a special way of life. We live in one of the islands in the U.T of Lakshadweep which is very much in the news for the wrong and most cruel details .
We should be in the news for the beauty and fragility of the coral islands that stand less than a metre above the mighty Arabian Sea braving the monsoon and many a cyclone. We should be known for our special pole and line way of fishing to harvest the abundant migratory tuna shoals that visit our waters. We should be in the news for the symbiotic relationship we have with various organisms in the reef starting from coral fishes to cowries and shells which we glean out without exploiting. We should be known for the huge sailing vessels that have carried materials for hundreds of years to mainland ports like Mangalore,Beypore and Kochi. We have been known as holding a rich and beautiful cultural tradition with folk songs and dances. Our method of sea faring using the ancient wisdom of stellar constellations still hold value and efficiency. The food we eat especially the tuna cooked in vinegar made from the coconut palm carries a special taste that can vie with a much coveted dish in a five star restaurant. Should we not be known for the sweet dweep halwa that is made with coconut and jaggery wrapped in banana leaf – so organic and with a long shelf life? Our customary laws that ensure an equal and just sharing of resources be it of the sea or land has elements that can be emulated by many. We would be proud and happy to be known for the fact that Shri Ali Manikfan from Minicoy was conferred the Padma Shri in 2021 for his auto didactic pursuits in diverse fields like marine ecology, cosmology, ship building and lunar calendar. We should be the model of empowerment as the unique Matriliny is followed here still that places women in a highly secure position within the family.
Yet all these and many more significant issues that make up our life and which is most often romanticised and idealised has been pushed to the dark. We are now in focus for an avalanche of wrong and shameful activities in the name of “ reforms and development” being made by people who have no wind of our life. We are slowly being pushed to our limits, put in a back to the wall situation by intrusions into our kitchen and bedroom. We understand that the vile way in which banning beef ( our primary source of protein other than fish) and controlling candidature to Panchayat elections by imposing the 2 children limit are all meant to provoke us and also those who will rise up to support us in the mainland. The hidden deeper agenda is even more disastrous and it is a “4 letter word” in every sense – the LDAR 2021 or LAKSHADWEEP DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY REGULATION that was supposed to be put in public domain on April 24th with provision for response by 19th May 2021. Who in the islands will check the public domain of the Administration frequently to know what is being posted unless there is a specific need or directive? Who can understand the legal language of such a document that runs to 193 pages? Is it not mandatory that an Executive Summary in local language be made available to the Dweep Panchayats and the document is put up for Public Dialogue and Consultation ?
How can all the Constitutional Rights of the Citizen be removed from a crucial issue like owning a land in a land deficit area like the islands and all decisions regarding the development be shifted exclusively to the Adminstration? How can development of a fragile area like Lakshadweep with acute limiting factors like land availability and fresh water scarcity be framed according to mainland norms and concepts? How can islands with maximum land area of 4.8 sqkms and maximum length of 5-6 kms fit into the category of “ town ship” and plans like “high way, mining, tourism,quarrying” and so on be envisaged? We do not want a development that is being planned along Mumbai, Gujarat or any other state. Can population alone be used as a criteria for demarcating each island as Census towns that permits disastrous and unsuitable development schemes? How and where will any compensation and rehabilitation be given for the method in which we will be dispossessed and disempowered? How can the islands with population density as high as 400 per square kilometre have a practical Rehabilitation Resettlement Package? How will compensation be given for our fishing rights in uninhabited islands which sustains us ? Who will compensate for our intimate connection with the small common holdings in each island where we collectively grow and nurture a green oasis ? We understand that the whole language and tone of LDAR is coercive, aggressive and imposing- words like “penalty’, no provision for resistance or questioning “ should not figure for a process that is meant for our good? How can the Prevention of Anti social activities Act be brought in while the liquor ban has been lifted against our wish and culture? How can a value judgement “traditional” be used in a under developed tone to describe that we are utilising only 10% of the fisheries around the islands? Are we not aware of the tragic crash in fisheries wherever modern technological exploitative extractive methods of harvesting fishery resources has been imposed ?
These and many other deep doubts and questions have been troubling us since December 2020 when a wave more dangerous and harmful than the worse Tsunami hit the peaceful waters of our home. We are no longer scared of Climate Change impacts, Sea level rise, coral bleaching, Sea erosion and all the natural disasters that await us.But we are really scared and angry about this deliberate and planned attempt to crush and oust us …that too in a country which is ours too !
We sure want to develop and enjoy all the luxuries of a developed modern world. But we also feel strongly that the Administration should tear off their mainland development blinkers and be open to the search for a sensible , ecologically, socially and economically viable island specific development plan that will factor in our deep connectedness to traditional and culturally valuable norms? We do not want our life and life style to be artefacts confined to a Museum after it is lost. We want to retain this , live our life in sync with the vast and benevolent oceans and lagoons, breathe the clean air, eat our fresh food, love and die here…our life is a live installation that is there for all to see and be part of.
This is not a plea or an out cry- nor is this a request or a demand . This is a statement based on true convictions and hope, on trust and faith that democracy, equity and transparency should and will prevail.
Please do what is in your capacity to make our voice heard
From the people of the emerald islands of U.T Of Lakshadweep
(Anitha.S in conversation with the people of Lakshadweep and after reading P.A.Raseela’s “ For you we are dots in the map, for me this is home” in e-magazine Idam, May 2021. Anitha.S has more than 2 decades of connection with the islands having been there on various projects relating to ecological education, socio-ecological, economic studies , biodiversity research and so on . She can be contacted at email@example.com)