What are the grievances of the people of Ladakh? How and why did the August 2019 creation of a separate union territory fail to satisfy their aspirations? What are the reasons behind the Union Government’s failure to meet their aspirations?
Why did Ladakh protest?
ON November 2, thousands of protesters bundled up in woollens hit the streets in the cold desert of Ladakh demanding constitutional safeguards, full-fledged statehood, early recruitment and additional representation in both the Houses of the Parliament. The protests were organised by the Apex Body of Leh and the Kargil Democratic Alliance.
“The expectations that the people had with the union territory were not realised”, said Jigmat Paljor, a social activist from Leh.
On August 5, 2019, when the Union Government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and split it into two union territories—Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — parts of Ladakh celebrated the move, with people in the Buddhist majority Leh district dancing on the streets.
The sparsely populated Ladakh, bordering China and Pakistan, formed two-thirds of the undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The two districts of the Himalayan region — Leh and Kargil — are politically split, with people having divergent aspirations. While Kargil has always supported the special constitutional position of Jammu and Kashmir and wanted to remain the part of erstwhile state, the people of Leh had been demanding union territory status for the region for decades. They were unhappy with the politics of Jammu and Kashmir as they felt that the political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir was dominated by the Kashmiri Muslim leadership.
While Kargil has always supported the special constitutional position of Jammu and Kashmir and wanted to remain the part of erstwhile state, the people of Leh had been demanding union territory status for the region for decades. They were unhappy with the politics of Jammu and Kashmir as they felt that the political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir was dominated by the Kashmiri Muslim leadership.
Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, the only Lok Sabha member from Ladakh, during a debate on Article 370 of the Constitution on August 6, 2019, said that they had struggled for the status of union territory over the last 71 years.
On the other hand, the people in Kargil hit the streets to protest against the scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A, spurring the government to impose restrictions. People from many outlying areas of Kargil marched towards the town and held protests. Many protesters were even detained by the police.
However, as a heady mix of celebrations and protests were over, the people began feeling apprehensive about losing their land and jobs, and feared for their distinct cultural identity. They felt disempowered with the status of a union territory without a legislature.
The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils in both Leh and Kargil districts – formed to administer the region – have no powers to legislate. Earlier, in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, the councils would make by-laws, which after being passed by the state Assembly would become laws.
“The [Union] Home Minister, Amit Shah, has said that these councils would be empowered but to no avail”, said Paljor.
Paljor claimed that the councils are devoid of any power to make laws on subjects like land and employment. The apprehensions soon grew into anxiety, precipitating the people to demand constitutional safeguards for their land and jobs.
The economic challenges also began confronting the people across the region. Ballooning unemployment left thousands of jobless youth distraught. Recently, for 790 posts, over 30,000 applications were received by the Ladakh administration.
“It reflects the size of unemployment in a region with a scant population of around three lakh”, said Paljor.
The burgeoning discontent prompted the formation of two organisations – the Apex Body of Leh and the Kargil Democratic Alliance. Both the organisations, which draw their members from civil society, religious and political organisations, resolved to fight for the issues confronting the region.
“After a series of parleys, the organisations settled on a four point agenda in 2021”, said Sajad Kargili, a prominent social activist and leader of the Kargil Democratic Alliance.
The four points included statehood for Ladakh, constitutional safeguards on the lines of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, additional representation for the region in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and an early recruitment process.
Presently, Ladakh has only one seat in the Lok Sabha and before August 5, 2019, the region would send four members to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.
In December 2021, both Leh and Kargil districts observed a complete shutdown in support of these demands; this was probably for the first time when both the districts came together to fight for a common cause.
Last week, hundreds of people in both the districts hit the streets in support of their four-point agenda.
Thupstan Chhewang, who heads the Apex Body of Leh, said that the government should listen to their demands and grant Ladakh full-fledged statehood.
“Our demands for constitutional guarantee under the Sixth Schedule, and additional representation in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha ought to be accepted”, he said.
What is the Sixth Schedule, and why does Ladakh demand it?
The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution provides for the self-autonomous administration of tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram in order to safeguard their rights. The Constitution provides this special provision under Articles 244(2) and 275(1).
One of the key demands of the people of Ladakh is to bring the region under the ambit of the Sixth Schedule as most of the population in the region belongs to different tribal groups.
The NCST recommended that the Ladakh region be brought under the ambit of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. It felt that it will help the region in many ways, including the democratic devolution of powers, preserving and promoting the distinct culture of the region, protecting agrarian rights and rights on land, and enhancing the transfer of funds for speedy development of the region.
“The tribal population in Ladakh is 97 percent”, said Kargili.
The main tribes of Ladakh are Balt, Bedi, Boto, Brokpa, Drokpa, Dard, Shin, Changpa, Garra, Mon and Purigpa. Leh has 66.8 per cent tribal population while Kargil has 83.49 per cent such population. The other areas of the region like Nubra, Khalisti, Sanku and Zanskar have 73.35, 97.7, 89.96 and 99.16 per cent tribal population, respectively.
What were the recommendations of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes in this regard?
Weeks after the Parliament passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (‘NCST’) held parleys and discussed the issue of bringing Ladakh under the ambit of the Sixth Schedule. On September 11, 2019, the Commission met again under the chairmanship of the politician, Dr. Nand Kumar Sai on the issue, and noted that the region was enjoying the constitutional protection to land and jobs before August 5, 2019. It also maintained that “the Ladakh region has several distinct cultural heritages by communities such as Drokpa, Balti and Changpa, among others, which need to be preserved and promoted”.
The Commission recommended that the region be brought under the ambit of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. It felt that it will help the region in many ways, including the democratic devolution of powers, preserving and promoting the distinct culture of the region, protecting agrarian rights and rights on land, and enhancing the transfer of funds for speedy development of Ladakh region. The Commission submitted its recommendations to the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah and the Union Tribal Affairs Minister, Arjun Munda. The recommendation, however, has not been implemented thus far.
“The government put the NCST recommendations into cold storage”, said Kargili.
What has been the government’s response so far?
The Union Territory of Ladakh last year issued Resident Certificates to permanent residents of Ladakh only. According to an order dated September 4, 2021, “any person who possesses a Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) issued by the competent authority in the districts of Leh and Kargil or belongs to a category of persons who would have been eligible to be issued PRC shall be eligible to receive the ‘Resident Certificate”.
The jobs for non-gazetted posts were also reserved for the original citizens of Ladakh, and outsiders could not apply for these jobs.
As the central dispensation put paid to the erstwhile state, the government extended 890 central laws to Jammu and Kashmir. Interestingly, no such laws have been made applicable to the Union Territory of Ladakh. Similarly, the law for getting a domicile certificate in the case of Jammu and Kashmir is not restricted to the permanent citizens of the region only.
During the last week’s protests, the leaders from both Leh and Kargil urged the government to accede to their four demands. The leaders vowed to launch a sustained agitation in case their demands were not fulfilled.
“Delay in fulfilling our demands is only increasing the trust deficit. The government must protect our distinct cultural identity and secure our land and jobs”, Kargili said.
He warned that any further delay would leave people in both the districts with no option, but to launch a mass agitation in support of their demands.