The Lakshadweep administration has withdrawn the master’s and undergraduate Arabic courses taught at the Union Territory at a time administrator Praful Khoda Patel has been accused of imposing a “saffron” agenda on the Muslim-majority archipelago.
Kerala's state-run University of Calicut taught these courses at academic centres run by the Lakshadweep government.
About a week ago, the Patel administration asked the university to stop all the master's courses it taught on the islands — MA Arabic, MCom, MA English and MSc aquaculture — as well as the BA Arabic course.
The University of Calicut's syndicate on Wednesday ratified the cancellation of the courses, although the existing students will be allowed to complete their programmes.
Syndicate member K.K. Haneefa told The Telegraph on Thursday that the Lakshadweep administration had cited a lack of demand for the master’s courses. “They apparently want to start job-oriented courses,” Haneefa said.
University officials said the order did not say why the popular BA Arabic programme was being abolished.
U.S. Afsal, who taught Arabic for five years until last month at Lakshadweep, expressed shock. “I just can’t believe this, since BA Arabic is a very popular course,” he told this newspaper.
He acknowledged that MA Arabic attracted only a handful of students but underlined that the master's course was launched on the island only six years ago. BA Arabic was introduced 16 years ago.
The University of Calicut taught BEd at a centre on Kavaratti Island and the other undergraduate and master's courses at centres on the Andrott and Kadmat Islands. The archipelago's students seeking degrees in Arabic will now have to travel to Kerala or elsewhere.
While scrapping the Arabic courses, the Lakshadweep administration has signed an agreement with the Pondicherry Central University from NDA-ruled Puducherry to start diploma courses in travel and tourism, catering and hospitality, and technical education on the Kadmat and Minicoy islands.
A senior official at the University of Calicut, located in Kerala's Malappuram district, said the BA Arabic course attracted about 30 students each year. He said it's mainly women who seek higher education in Lakshadweep.
“There's no justification for pulling out the undergraduate (Arabic) course or the MA aquaculture course, which was specific to the ecology of Lakshadweep, whose people depend mainly on fishing,” said the official, declining to be named.
He said the university had no choice but to accept the administration's directive. “The centres are run by the Lakshadweep administration while we provide the courses and teachers; so there was nothing we could do,” he said.
A syndicate member, Rasheed Ahammed P, on Thursday wrote to the vice-chancellor of the University of Calicut demanding he mount pressure on the Lakshadweep administration to reinstate the BA and MA Arabic courses.
“There was no shortage of students in BA Arabic all these years. Hence, such a move will not be in the interest of Lakshadweep's students,” the letter said.
Ahammed said the master's course too should be allowed to continue and not judged solely in terms of enrolment figures. "It's a part of providing facilities to meritorious students... especially to poor girl students," the letter said.
Afsal said: “We need to realise that Lakshadweep is a very backward area where the importance of higher education is just about getting accepted.”
Patel, who took over as administrator last December, is a former BJP leader who was home minister of Gujarat for a while when Narendra Modi was chief minister.
Several of his decisions have prompted protest in Lakshadweep and outside, among them his efforts to boost tourism and construction projects that many fear would harm the islands’ ecology.
Patel has also been accused of trying to cut Lakshadweep's links with Kerala, with which the islanders share deep cultural, linguistic and marital ties.