LEH — Granting Ladakh the status of a Union Territory status has once again exposed sub-regional and religion fault lines in the hilly region of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Shia-majority district of Kargil is a part of the Buddhist-populated Ladakh — now a newly formed Union Territory — but culturally identifies with the Kashmir Valley regardless of the Shia-Sunni divide. About 52% of Ladakh’s population is Muslim.
“It’s the murder of democracy and we want to be with the Kashmir region. How can a decision be taken about us without taking our consent! Does it happen in any democratic setup? It’s the worst kind of oppression and we are not going to take it lying down,” said Bakar Ali, one of the protesters.
Former Kargil MLA Asgar Ali Karbali condemned the alteration in J&K’s status quo and said he loathed the Centre’s move, calling it unilateral. “It’s a black day in the history of India and Jammu and Kashmir,” he said, echoing Ali’s sentiments that they won’t accept this decision.
A complete bandh was observed in Kargil on Tuesday.
The call for bandh was given by the Joint Action Committee of Kargil. Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust, Kargil, one of the influential religious groups in the region, supported the shutdown.
All educational institutes and business establishments remained closed. A protest march was held and was addressed by different political parties. Leaders of the National Conference and the Congress raised slogans against Ladakh’s UT status and decried that it had been granted no legislature.
So close yet so far
Kargil hadn’t supported the 1989 agitation started by Leh Buddhist Association for the UT status. The movement had culminated in the formation of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh in 1995. It had sparked clashes between the two communities.
However, unlike Kashmir, Kargil has never seen any anti-India protest. Its people were the first to spot Pakistani intrusion in 1999 that turned into the Kargil war.
Making light of the voices of disapproval in Kargil, Ladakh MP Tsering Namgyal said in Lok Sabha on Tuesday that he got elected with the heavy support of the Kargil people despite the BJP manifesto promising the UT status to Ladakh.
The Buddhist-majority Leh district considers the UT status as the realisation of a long-awaited aspiration but witnessed only muted celebrations. There is apprehension that denying a legislature to Ladakh might have huge repercussions on the region’s identity.
“In 1949, the second president of Ladakh Buddhist Association, Tsewang Rigzin, had asked the then PM late Pandit Nehru to accord special status to Ladakh. Since then, we have been fighting for it and our people got martyred too. We have finally got out of the clutches of Kashmir,” said LBA president PT Kunzang.
On Kargil not supporting the decision, he said they can’t impose anything on anybody but in hindsight, people of Kargil will agree that this was the right decision.
In Leh, the biggest concern right now is protecting its cultural identity and itself from economic onslaught. The people here feel this can be done only with legislative power, which they have been denied.
“It is not what we demanded. We always demanded UT with legislative power. We are a small community and have been zealously guarding it by not allowing outsiders to settle in. Now, the land is free. How will we compete with big economic giants? We need a regulating authority and that is possible only with legislative power,” ex-MLA Deldan Namgail said.
(Author is Jammu-based journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroot reporters.)