Ladakh Statehood demand | Protest calendar ready, says former BJP MP

Hundreds of Ladakh residents gather in Delhi to demand Statehood, constitutional safeguard for the Union Territory

February 15, 2023 10:49 pm | Updated 11:51 pm IST - New Delhi

Students from Leh, Ladakh stage a protest over various demands, including a Statehood and constitutional safeguards.

Students from Leh, Ladakh stage a protest over various demands, including a Statehood and constitutional safeguards. | Photo Credit: ANI

Hundreds of Ladakh residents gathered in Delhi on Wednesday to demand Statehood and constitutional safeguards for the Union Territory.

The representatives from both Kargil and Leh asserted that when Sikkim with a population of only 2.5 lakh could be granted Statehood, the same could be done for Ladakh which has a population of around 3 lakh (as per 2011 Census). Rejecting the high powered committee (HPC) constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on January 2, the speakers said that any dialogue would henceforth be held directly with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. They claimed the committee was just a pretext to mislead them.

Former BJP MP from Ladakh, Thupstan Chhewang said that not a single job had been given to locals since Ladakh became a Union Territory. If their demands were not met, they were ready to intensify the protest, he said, adding that the protest calender for 2023 and 2024 were ready.

“We do not have any separatist mindset; that is why we demanded UT status for Ladakh. There were attempts to create division among the people of Kargil and Leh. The purpose [of coming] to Delhi is to make ourselves heard by the Prime Minister and Home Minister of the country,” he said.

Mr. Chhewang added that the committee led by Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai did not have any real power and it did not acknowledge any of their demands.

On August 5, 2019, the special status of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution was read down by the Parliament and the State was bifurcated into two Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh, the latter without a legislative assembly.

Movement in the making

More than three years on, the Leh Apex Body and the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) have come together to demand Statehood, the inclusion of Ladakh under the sixth schedule of the Constitution (protection of tribal areas), filling of vacancies and two Lok Sabha and one Rajya Sabha seat for the region.

Wednesday’s gathering brought forth people from all walks of life. Lobsang Shirap (88), a farmer from Nubra, said that he was there to fight for the future generation. “There are no jobs and no teachers in schools. I am here to extend support to the youth,” he said.

Tsewang Dolma (80) from Henaskot in West Ladakh listened in rapt attention to the speakers on stage as she joined others in raising slogans in support of the sixth schedule.

Education reformer Sonam Wangchuk, one of the popular voices from Ladakh, received a rousing welcome as he took the stage. “Ladakh is ecologically sensitive. We were expecting UT with a legislature but got one without legislature, we thought it may be on the way. We made the BJP win but gradually they stopped talking about sixth schedule,” he pointed out.

Tsering Lhazes (25), from Hemis but educated in Delhi, said she wanted to protect Ladakh’s culture. “If we do not start now, settlements will be gone; there will be no jobs and land for us in the future,” she said.

Spalsez (23) from Durbuk echoed the sentiment. “Sixth schedule is required to protect our environment. We are already seeing the impact of climate change. Few years ago we used to get snowfall, this season we did not see any snow in my village,” Ms. Spalsez, who had graduated from Delhi University, said.

Sajjad Kargili, social activist and a member of the KDA, said, “Ladakhis are peace-loving people but we are forced to protest. We have sacrificed for the country but today we need the government and the country to support and respect our sentiments.”

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