Ladakhis Protest Demanding Constitutional Safeguards; Govt Must Pay Attention To The Emerging Situation

Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

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The protestors are now planning a Border March of 10,000 Ladakhi shepherds and farmers.

THE TENDENCY OF the central government to ignore or give low priority to issues emanating in places distant from the national capital has proved very damaging in the past but the government appears to have taken no lessons.

While Manipur continued to burn since about eight month, despite “double engine ki sarkar”, a potentially dangerous situation is brewing in the Ladakh region located along the strategically sensitive border with China.

Even as the government and the country as a whole are focussed on the upcoming general elections, little attention is being paid to Ladakh where local residents have been demanding constitutional safeguards to protect the tribal areas from encroachments and exploitation.

ladakhiAmong their demands is full statehood for Ladakh, inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the constitution which provides for regional self-governance institutions, reservation of jobs for locals and a Parliament seat each for Leh and Kargil regions.

Ninety five per cent of the population of Ladakh is tribal with distinct ethnicity, culture and customs. While Buddhism is the dominant religion in most parts of Ladakh, there are Muslim populated areas like Kargil and Drass.

Their biggest concerns are change in demography and protection of tribal lands. They apprehend that people from other parts of the country will set up industries, establish trade, buy lands, bring people from outside that will lead to demographic change and loss of jobs for locals.

After a massive rally earlier this month, the biggest ever the Ladakh region has witnessed, a social activist and engineer, Sonam Wangchuk (who was the inspiration behind Aamir Khan’s film 3 Idiots) has started an indefinite fast which entered its 17th day today.

ladakhiWangchuk with hundreds of supporters have sitting and sleeping in the cold minus 12 degree temperature to press for the demand for constitutional safeguards for the Union Territory of Ladakh and protection of ecologically fragile Ladakh’s ecosystem from industrial and mining lobbies.

Ladakhis have been long demanding separation from the Jammu-Kashmir region of the erstwhile state. After the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, Ladakh was separated from Jammu-Kashmir region and given the stratus of a separate Union Territory.

The announcement was welcomed by the Ladakhi tribal population but they soon realised that they still lacked powers to take decisions or to bring in laws because the power to do had just shifted from the Jammu and Kashmir government to the Central Government.

Ladakh has an Autonomous Hill Council but it has been rendered powerless due to the provision that the final decision on any proposal would be take by the government. And since Ladakh is a Union Territory now, these powers have been shifted to the central government.

Following the repeal of Article 370 in August 2019, and the subsequent enactment of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, Ladakh was recognised as a separate Union Territory “without legislature”.

Wangchuk, who is leading the agitation, has pointed out that the Bharatiya Janata Party had promised in its 2019 manifesto for Lok Sabha elections as well as in the Ladakh Hill Council elections in 2020 that Ladakh would be provided protection under the Sixth Schedule just as tribal areas have been given protection in the north eastern region of the country.

He said industries have been exploiting the mountains by setting up dams and mining and added that his goal was to make the voices of Ladakhi people heard “so that the pressure of the industrial and mining lobbies is neutralised and the government can take a fair decision.”

In the meantime the leaders of Congress, BJP and Aam Aadmi Party have decide to boycott the elections to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. They passed a resolution saying they would boycott the elections till such time the constitutional safeguards under Sixth Schedule are granted to the Union Territory of Ladakh.

The protestors are now planning a Border March of 10,000 Ladakhi shepherds and farmers. As is well known China has already encroached upon large tracts of land in the region and is also developing infrastructure close to the border. The fears of Ladakhi tribals must be addressed on priority and its high time government pays attention to the emerging situation in the region. punjab


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ਉੱਲੂ ਨੇਤਾ ਅਤੇ ਭੇਡਮਈ ਵੋਟਰ

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Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.

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