Why India blocked Lakshadweep’s oldest news portal?; Dweep Diary Editorial board member K Bahir Speaks

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Since past few days, #SaveLakshadweep campaign is gaining momentum in social media. The current campaigns that contain dissent to the draft regulations on food habits and religious culture of the islands, land rights, family planning as criteria for panchayat election candidature and corporatization is being given least coverage from the national TV channels and English news papers. The island’s first ever online news portal Dweep Diary has faced ban by the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India.

Dweep Diary has been publishing news about amendments and regulations brought about by the newly appointed Administrator Praful Khoda Patel that are quickly being imposed upon the people. The ten years old news website, launched by a group of writers and literary activists faced its first ever ban on 23 May 2021. K Bahir, the senior editorial member of Dweep Diary speaks to Keyboard Journal in an exclusive interview about the present scenario in the Islands.

K Bahir thinks this happened because a revolutionary song uploaded in the website. Bahir is unaware of the content of the song, since in Kilthan, the island he lives he is unable to access the internet. “There is no active media in Lakshadweep. Years back, we began using a blog to share the local news. We transformed it into a news portal. The Lakshadweep Sahithya Pravarthaka Sangam (Lakshadweep Literary Activists Group) founded the website in 2010. Along with news, we used to publish literary pieces including stories and poetry, articles on issues related to Dweep etc. It is through this website the islanders who live in Dweep, the expatriate islanders, and Malayali community gets to know about Dweep. It went on without any hurdles for many years. Only when we get internet interruptions, our updating gets stuck.

There are disagreements and protest from islanders regarding the new developments in the Dweep. There is a song uploaded in our website that register these emotions, as far I understand, I am yet to watch it since there is no internet here in Kilthan island. I understand it is this song that has irked the government to block it,” K Bahir explains the history and currency of ‘Dweep Diary’. Staffed with around seven reporters, Dweep Diary writes its reports in a direct factual language, in very short content.

“I live in an island populated by around 3,000 people. Daily, near to 30 CoVID cases are being reported now.  In Kilthan Island, there is only one primary health centre where one medical officer, two contract based doctors and paramedical staffs are appointed and near to only 10 to 15 beds are available. If health condition worsens, the patient must be taken to another hospital by helicopter or ship. That is how it works here. The patient will be taken to either a hospital in Kavaratti or they will be taken to Rajiv Gandhi Specialty Hospital in Agatti. It has a bit developed facility. If they can’t attend, the patient will be shifted to Ernakulam. The charges of transportation will have to be spent by the patient. Some use health insurance.

While we were containing the pandemic, outsiders who enter the Dweep had to stay in government quarantine for a week. Later, they will be tested. If they are negative, they will be taken to ship and put to house quarantine. Again there will be another CoVID test done and only after that they will be let go to the island. Only after these conditions and protocols were lifted by the newly appointed administrator, CoVID entered the island. Daily CoVID cases being reported there are near to thirty now. Currently tests are being done and the patients are sent in to isolation in school buildings. If the condition worsens they will be hospital treatment.

The white sand area is where fishing boats anchor and all transactions are being done. The fisher folk built sheds in this area. These sheds used to be there even before India become independent. It is only very recently the claim of government officials over this area strengthened. This indicates that it is a signal to tourism projects. We doubt that there is an agenda working on over ownership of these lands, by BJP leaders. We weren’t aware of the clearing off in this area. As lockdown was declared, none of us could get out of our houses. Boats of fisher folk that cost lacs of rupees were destroyed.

They have made a draft of panchayat bylaw amendment. One of the clauses in this says that an individual with more than two children can’t contest in the elections. The draft is around 70 pages. Even the political leaders here aren’t given time to read this draft. “We report the news that affect us. If anything happens at the national level and that affects each and every citizen of India that would be reported in our website. But we prioritize news about Dweep,” he said.

(With the proposed Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021, the islands will be divided into four areas; residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural and other purposes. A chief town planner will be having the power on people’s right over their own land. A letter to the administrator by the islanders demands the withdrawal of this regulation, anticipating outsiders settling in their own land, in which the majority population is Scheduled Tribe, according to 2011 census. This regulation will allow the governing authority- administrator to decide upon the geographical future of a particular island. These activities will be done by an authority for planning.

Lakshadweep has the lowest number of crimes recorded according to the National Crime Records Bureau data. The administration has proposed to implement Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act. The Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulations 2021 propose the ban of transportation, sale, storage and consumption of beef. This directly attacks the rights of islanders over what to eat. With the newly issued directives in 2021, the cultural ban on transportation and sales of liquor is also lifted).

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