Filmmaker in India’s Lakshadweep charged over ‘bioweapon’ remark

Police in India’s Lakshadweep islands have charged a local filmmaker with sedition after she called the federal territory’s administrator a “bioweapon” being used by the government against the islands’ residents.

The case against Aisha Sultana was registered at a police station in Lakshadweep’s main island and capital, Kavaratti, following a complaint by a local politician belonging to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian media reports said on Friday.The BJP complaint cited a Malayalam TV channel show on controversial government plans in Lakshadweep, during which Sultana reportedly said Modi’s government was using the islands’ administrator, Praful Khoda Patel, as a “bioweapon”.

Patel, 63, is the first non-bureaucrat administrator of the Lakshadweep islands and once served as home minister of Modi’s home state, Gujarat, when the Indian prime minister was its chief minister for more than a decade.

The Lakshadweep islands – popular with tourists – are run by an administrator appointed by the Indian president.

Since taking over the Lakshadweep administration in December last year, Patel has pushed through a slew of new laws and proposals – without consulting locally elected representatives – in India’s only Muslim-majority territory apart from Indian-administered Kashmir.

Lakshadweep is an idyllic archipelago of 36 islands – 10 of them inhabited – spread over a 32-square-kilometre area in the sea, about 200km (124 miles) off the southwestern coast of the Indian Peninsula.

It is the smallest among India’s eight “Union Territories” (UTs), with a population of 65,000 people – 97 percent of them Muslims – who now fear losing their land, livelihoods and other rights as the government backs plans to develop the remote archipelago as a tourist hub.

Proposed new town planning laws to make way for tourism, luxury housing and deep-sea mining projects, would give Patel the power to remove or relocate islanders from areas earmarked for development by declaring land as “planning” areas.

Other controversial proposals range from a ban on cow slaughter and allowing more liquor licences, which are seen as offending local Islamic religious sentiment. Currently, the sale and consumption of alcohol is largely banned on the islands.

Other proposals include disqualifying people with more than two children from village council elections. The administration could also imprison any person without trial for up to a year, under Patel’s proposals.

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