Activist calls for border march in Ladakh to mark land lost to China

The march would be taken out in the north and south banks of Pangong Tso lake, Demchok, Chushul among others along the Line of Actual Control with China; two dates are shortlisted — March 27 and April 7

March 20, 2024 02:36 am | Updated 07:12 am IST - NEW DELHI

 Sonam Wangchuk has been protesting demanding constitutional safeguards for the UT. File

 Sonam Wangchuk has been protesting demanding constitutional safeguards for the UT. File | Photo Credit: ANI

Around 10,000 people from Ladakh will march to the border along China this month to showcase how much land has been lost to the neighbouring country, climate activist and education reformer Sonam Wangchuk said on Tuesday.

Mr. Wangchuk has been protesting in open in sub-zero temperature in Leh, surviving only on salt and water for the past 14 days, to demand constitutional safeguards for the Union Territory.

Who is Sonam Wangchuk and why did he go on a ‘climate fast’?

“We know from the shepherds that they are not allowed [anymore] to go to the places that they always used to go. In particular areas, they are stopped kilometres before where they used to go earlier. We will go and show whether land has been lost or not,” Mr. Wangchuk said.

The march would be taken out in Finger area (north and south bank of Pangong Tso), Demchok, Chushul among others along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.

He said two dates have been shortlisted for the march — March 27 and April 7.

“The march will also highlight the areas, prime pasture lands, that are being turned into solar parks. On one hand, nomads are losing their land to corporates who are coming to set up their plants, maybe mining in future. Nomads will lose 150,000 sq km of prime pasture land, on the other hand they are losing pasture land to China which is encroaching from the north, the Chinese have captured huge chunks of land in the last few years,” he said.

After the June 15, 2020 incident in Galwan where 20 Indian soldiers were killed in violent clashes with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, several rounds of talks between the two armies have taken place leading to disengagement and creation of buffer zones or no-go areas. These areas in eastern Ladakh were regularly patrolled before April 2020 when China started amassing troops close to the LAC. At least 26 patrolling points out of total 65 PPs in Eastern Ladakh are not being patrolled due to the border dispute.

At the centre of Mr. Wangchuk’s protest that has received huge support from the locals is the failure of talks between Ladakh civil society leaders and Union Home Minister Amit Shah on March 4.

The members of Leh Apex Body (LAB) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) representing the Buddhist majority and Shia Muslim dominated regions respectively in Ladakh, are jointly protesting for Statehood for Ladakh, inclusion of Ladakh in the sixth schedule of the constitution thus giving it a tribal status, job reservation for locals and a parliamentary seat each for Leh and Kargil.

Though ministry officials had in previous rounds of meetings agreed to examine how the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution can be implemented in Ladakh’s context, the meeting with Mr. Shah “did not result in any positive outcome”.

“Government has been declining to keep their promise on Sixth Schedule. The Home Minister said we cannot give this but we will give you some constitutional safeguard,” Mr. Wangchuk said adding that he wants to awaken the people of India to this “breach of trust”.

“People are disillusioned, disenchanted and angry. There is no chance BJP will win a seat here in the upcoming elections. But this is not only for Ladakh, am trying to awaken the nation, if this is how election promises are honoured, then elections are a joke. Why did we vote this party to power twice?” he said. Ladakh’s only parliamentary seat was won by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 and 2019.

After the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution was revoked by the Parliament on August 5, 2019, Ladakh was turned into a Union Territory without any legislative assembly.

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