Concerns of the People of Ladakh Should Get Our Sympathy and Support

sonam wangchuk

Educationist and climate activist Sonam Wangchuk, who has emerged as a respected leader of the people of Ladakh, ended his 21 day fast on March 26. He attracted a lot of admiration in several parts of the country, but did not succeed in the objective of getting the government to accept his demands. This movement has gained much support in Ladakh, and thousands of people fasted for smaller periods as a gesture of support and solidarity. The peaceful movement is continuing, with several women also observing fasts.

What are the demands of this movement? Some of these relate to protection of environment and the relevance of these has increased in times of climate change. Ladakh as well as the wider Himalayan region are highly sensitive from the point of view of the importance of protecting their ecology. Demands relating to the protection of environment have been arising from many parts of the Himalayan region of India. In fact the 50th anniversary of the Chipko movement of being observed now. These demands should get wide support.

Secondly there are demands concerning the rights of self-governance and decentralized governance by people who are keen that their region and villages should develop in accordance with local sensibilities, but at the same time are apprehensive that bureaucrats may not have the same sensitivity and understanding. This need for understanding local sensibilities are all the greater in regions like Ladakh with their rather distinct characteristics which may not be appreciated by outsiders who have the power but not the understanding. The Constitution of India fortunately has special provisions for such regions, particularly those with substantial presence of tribal communities, so that their need and yearnings for highly decentralized governance and development can be satisfied. In fact, such development can have some important lessons for others too.

In September 2019 the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes also recommended ‘tribal area’ status for Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule, while noting that nearly 97% of the population here is placed in the category of scheduled tribes and is entitled to, needs and deserves the special protections extended to scheduled tribes. This, the Commission rightly noted, would contribute to “democratic devolution of power, preservation and promotion of the region’s distinct culture, protect agrarian rights and enhance transfer of funds for the speedy development of Ladakh.”

Such special provisions in the constitution were placed here by our far-sighted and wise leaders to protect the unity of the country while respecting its diversity. These are much in advance of several western countries which in fact were involved in the most terrible massacres of the indigenous people.

While yearnings for decentralized governance in Ladakh should be respected, this region also has some special strategic aspects and security concerns which too deserve attention. The Ladakh region has a long border with China and Pakistan and both these countries have been very aggressive here in the past. So the country has to be very careful in protecting the borders. Secondly, the western countries too are known to be keen acquire influence in such regions of great strategic importance. They often use this influence to cause mischief of various kinds.

Both the aspirations of people and genuine security concerns need our attention. Both are important. Both sides should talk to each other keeping in mind this need, so that we soon find a path which respects the aspirations of people and takes care of security requirements as well. As far as issues concerning what kind of industry, energy, water-management is needed as well as other development choices, these should be largely decided by the people in true democratic spirit with due regard for environment protection.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Planet in Peril’, ‘Protecting Earth for Children’, ‘Man over Machine’ and ‘India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food’. 

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