Residents of Lakshadweep on Monday held a 12-hour-long hunger strike and staged demonstrations at beaches and their homes in protest against a set of proposed regulations, reported the Hindustan Times.

A slew of regulations introduced by administrator Praful Khoda Patel has triggered a massive outcry among the residents of the Union Territory as well as the Opposition parties.

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 – and a draft law proposing sweeping changes in land development regulations.

The Save Lakshadweep Forum, a group created to facilitate the protests against the proposed rules, said most of the local residents will observe a hunger strike in their homes from 6 am to 6 pm on Monday.

The forum said that all shops, except those providing emergency services, will remain closed during the 12 hours. Monday’s demonstrations have been been viewed as the first major protest in the Union Territory against the proposed regulations.

But Patel has warned of strict action under laws pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic to deter crowding at public places.

“This is the first time all islands are observing such a protest,” said UCK Thangal, a convenor at the Save Lakshadweep Forum. “Though we have been assured repeatedly that local sentiments will be heard and addressed, the administrator is going ahead with his partisan and retrograde decisions.”

Residents of the islands were seen carrying placards that read “Let us live peacefully on the land we were born” and “We are not against development; don’t peddle false information”, reported The News Minute. Most placards had the same message: “Save Lakshadweep, Save Democracy”.

National Congress Party, Lakshadweep, President Bunyamin told The News Minute that the protest was not just against the administrator but Collector Asker Ali who had called the unrest in the Union Territory a misleading campaign by people living outside the islands. The collector had also claimed that there was no tension on the islands and the protests did not reflect the sentiments of the people.

“The protests began from here, it is very much our sentiments,” he told The News Minute. Our culture and our lives were attacked. Later we got huge support from outside.”

One of the most controversial decisions taken by Patel is to introduce draft regulations that seek to bring in sweeping changes to land use patterns in the islands. Titled the Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021, the document has been criticised for trying to create a land development structure that is arbitrary, given the wide powers it gives the administration to take over private land.

Patel has also introduced a draft preventive detention law, Prevention of Anti-Social Activities, which the Opposition has called an attempt to intimidate people. If implemented, it allows a person to be detained without public disclosure for up to a year.

Opposition parties have criticised Patel’s decisions related to the Union Territory and demanded his removal from the post. The parties accused him of harassing locals and destroying the heritage of the island territory. Politicians have also alleged that Patel, who had served as Gujarat home minister, has been targeting Lakshadweep’s large Muslim population.

On May 31, the Kerala government passed a resolution against the policies and urged the Centre to call back the administrator. On June 5, a group of 93 former civil servants wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing concern over the proposed regulations and demanded removing Patel as the administrator of the Union Territory.

Facing criticism for the draft laws from various entities, Patel has defended the proposals, saying that these were efforts to develop the region and help its residents.

However, some members of the BJP have also expressed their apprehensions. BJP Lakshadweep unit president Mohammad Kasim joined the protest against the new rules. Eight members of the saffron party’s youth wing had also resigned in protest against the administrator “undemocratic actions”.

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