New Delhi: Slogans demanding statehood for Ladakh were raised at Jantar Mantar on Wednesday as a joint protest was held by the Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance in the national capital.
Representatives of social, cultural and political organisations from Ladakh, as well as hundreds of common Ladakhis gathered at the 18th-century observatory, a stone’s throw away from the Parliament building, and said they hoped their voice would reach the government.
“Our traditions, ethnic identity, resources and security are at stake today. Our demand is very simple, we want democracy to be restored in Ladakh by giving it statehood, and to be brought under the sixth schedule of Constitution,” said Thupstan Chhewang, a former BJP MP who resigned in 2018 accusing the party of not fulfilling promises made to the people of Ladakh.
He said Ladakh is an ecologically sensitive area and development activities without consulting locals will be harmful.
“A big solar power project has been planned, but the area earmarked is the area of nomadic people who are known for producing Pashmina. It will displace them because their rich pastures will go. In addition, it will also impact the environment in the area,” he said.
“If the people of Ladakh have a say in the decision making, we will decide what kind of industries should be set up,” he said.
Environmental activist and educator Sonam Wangchuk accused the BJP of reneging on its promise of including Ladakh under the sixth schedule.
“In 2020, when Hill Council elections were held, the BJP had promised sixth schedule status. We are very thankful to the BJP as they gave Union Territory status to Ladakh… Was it a promise or not? Does the election manifesto mean anything or not,” he said.
“We made them win the Hill Council, they deserved it because they gave us a Union Territory. It was a promise, then they went silent on it, and now it is a crime to even talk about it. If youth in Ladakh speak of the sixth schedule, they are detained,” he said.
Former Kargil MLA Asgar Ali Karbalai said statehood for Ladakh was important as it is a sensitive region which shares borders with both Pakistan and China.
“We have protected the borders with our blood… Today we are in Delhi, shouting that we need protection and security,” he said.
“If Sikkim can get statehood, why not Ladakh,” he added.
Politician and activist Sajjad Hussain said they hope government would take note of their demands and listen to them.
“Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance are holding this protest jointly. We are raising a four-point agenda, under which our demands are statehood for Ladakh, sixth schedule under Constitution, job reservation, a separate public service commission for Ladakh, and two parliamentary seats for Leh and Kargil,” he said.
Ladakh was carved into a Union Territory without legislature when Article 370 and 35A were abrogated, and Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union Territories.
Over the last two years, protests have been held in both Leh and Kargil demanding protection of the interests of the people of Ladakh.
In January this year, the home ministry constituted a high-powered committee headed by Minister of State Nityanand Rai to “ensure protection of land and employment” for the people of Ladakh.
The two bodies from Leh and Kargil, however, rejected the committee, and decided not to attend any meeting conducted under its aegis, saying its mandate did not mention the issues raised by them.
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