Centre’s policy sowing seeds of militancy by alienating Ladakh youth: Sonam Wangchuk

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As demand for protection of land, culture and jobs under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution gathers steam in Ladakh, Sonam Wangchuk, an education reformer and one of the most popular voices from the region, said on Thursday that the Centre’s policy was sowing seeds of militancy by alienating the youth.

“The fear is not that people will turn against India, the fear is that love for India will subside and it is dangerous for a country that is facing the Chinese. Unlike people in Mumbai and Delhi, people here have helped the Army during war by acting as porters and supplying food,” Wangchuk said in an interview with The Hindu.

He said unemployment and indiscriminate police action against civilians for uttering the phrase “Sixth Schedule” in public had contributed to this feeling and First Information Reports (FIRs) were being filed “left, right and centre”.

“When I wanted to fast at Khardung La, I was put under house arrest. Four days ago the Lieutenant Governor [L-G] of Ladakh had come for prize distribution ceremony at the conclusion of an ice hockey competition in a stadium in Leh. On seeing him, children started shouting ‘Sixth Schedule’. They were taken to police station. Has it become a crime to say Sixth Schedule in public now?” he said, adding that 12,000 jobs were promised but the recruitment process was completed only for 800 positions. He claimed a journalist was booked for posting a message in favour of the Sixth Schedule.

Wangchuk, an engineer who is also a climate activist, concluded a five-day fast on 1 February to demand Statehood for Ladakh and inclusion under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Around 2,000 people in Leh attended the rally to conclude his agitation.

On 5 August 2019, the special status of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution was revoked by the Parliament and the State was bifurcated into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the latter without a legislative Assembly.

More than three years later, several civil society groups, including the influential Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), have hit the street on several occasions demanding constitutional safeguards.

On 2 January, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) constituted a high-powered committee to “ensure the protection of land and employment” for the people of Ladakh. The committee members have decided to boycott the committee till their demands are met. The Apex Body for Leh, a group comprising all political parties in Ladakh, the LBA and the Kargil Democratic Alliance have been demanding Statehood for Ladakh.

Echoing the sentiment, Wangchuk said they were better off with Article 370 which ensured that industries would not be able to exploit their resources.

“Earlier we had four MLAs in the State Assembly [of Jammu and Kashmir], now we have zero representation. The L-G, who is an outsider, is sent to govern us. One man decides everything. 90% of the ₹6,000 crore allocated to Ladakh is at the dispensation of a non-elected person. He may take any decision under pressure or financial gain. By the time he will understand the issues, it will be time for him to leave. We demand full Statehood so that our voices are heard,” Wangchuk, who inspired the Hindi movie Three Idiots, said.

He said the sixth schedule was part of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto during the 2019 general elections and even during the Hill Council elections in 2020 and when the assurance of restoring Statehood to Jammu and Kashmir could be given, then why not for Ladakh?

He said he was not against the government allotting land to industries for solar panels. “We want that the solar energy comes to India’s use but the ground should belong to us, it should be used by graziers, if they take our land and push away the graziers, then it cannot be accepted,” he said.

The Sixth Schedule under Article 244 of the Constitution protects tribal populations, providing autonomy to the communities through the creation of autonomous development councils which can frame laws on land, public health, and agriculture. As of now, 10 autonomous councils exist in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. (The Hindu)

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