Political parties, local bodies and civil society groups on Wednesday criticised the Lakshadweep administration’s decision to change the weekly holiday for schools in the Union Territory from Friday to Sunday.

For decades, schools in Lakshadweep have remained closed on Fridays so that students could offer namaz. According to the 2011 Census, Muslims constitute nearly 96% of the island’s population.

The Education Department of the Lakshadweep administration had notified the change in weekly holidays on December 17. The order included a subject-wise allotment of classes and mentioned Fridays as working days.

It also notified changes in school timings to “ensure optimum utilisation of resources and proper engagemenet of learners and necessary planning of teaching-learning process”, according to The Times of India.

The Save Lakshadweep Forum, an umbrella organisation of political and religious bodies, said that it would oppose the order of the Education Department because it can “destroy the region’s cultural identity”, the Hindustan Times reported.

Lakshadweep’s Nationalist Congress Party MP Mohammed Faizal PP said that the decision was “unilateral and unpopular”, The Indian Express reported. He blamed the Union Territory’s administrator Praful Khoda Patel for taking the decision without consulting elected representatives.

Praful Khoda Patel, a former Gujarat MLA of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been at the centre of controversy over a slew of regulations introduced in Lakshadweep earlier this year.

The new regulations include a proposed cow slaughter ban, a preventive detention law in the Union Territory, which has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, a draft law proposing sweeping changes in land development regulations and banning of meat from midday meals in schools.

Political parties and social activists have criticised Patel’s decisions, alleging that the changes were targeted at the Muslim population of the archipelago.

On Wednesday, B Hassan, a district panchayat president in Lakshadweep, told the Hindustan Times that the administration should have consulted the Muslim community before changing the weekly holidays in schools.

However, Lakshadweep Collector Asgar Ali claimed that the decision was taken to meet a long-standing demand of teachers and a section of parents of school-going students.

“It has nothing to do with the religion,” Ali said. “We are providing a one-hour break to students to offer Friday prayers. The administration is following the national system where Sunday is designated as a holiday. This will help streamline things.”