From 14,000 Ft High Khardungla Pass To Jantar Mantar, Sonam Wangchuk Has Emerged As The Voice Of Ladakh

Ladakhi icon Sonam Wangchuk has sharpened his stance over the demands of legislature and constitutional safeguards for Ladakh in recent months.

Sonam Wangchuk at a Ladakhi protest in Delhi's Jantar Mantar

Ladakhi innovator Sonam Wagchuk was one of the leading voices at the protest in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on February 15. The protest was organised by the Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Front (KDF) to press the government to accept their demands that include statehood for Ladakh.  

A climate-conscious innovator, Wangchuk was persuasive and talked a lot about the patriotism of Ladakhis. In chaste Hindi, he also warned the Union government that the world is watching developments in Ladakh closely.

The protest call was given by Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Front (KDF) to press the government to accept their demands that include statehood for Ladakh,  safeguards for Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, formation of Public Service Commission, and reservation of jobs for the youth of Ladakh, and creation of two separate parliamentary constituencies for Leh and Kargil regions.

“No Ladakhi has ever stated they want separation from the Indian Union. Ladakhis have always been with India and the Indian Army. If they are asking that their future will be determined by them, you must support them…The government gave us a coat [Union Territory], why is it now shying away from handing its buttons [constitutional safeguards]?” Wangchuk said addressing the gathering.

Wangchuk held a climate fast at -20*C at the Himalayan Institute of Alternative Ladakh on January 26-31. He was planning to hold the fast at 18,000 ft Khardungla pass where the temperature dips to -40*C but the government didn’t allow him to move towards Khardungla over health concerns. 

Ahead of his fast, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Wangchuk called on the Union government that Ladakh's fragile environment and its people deserve the Sixth Schedule under Indian Constitution. However, after the end of the fast, he also supported the demand for statehood for Ladakh. His climate fast brought political agitation of Ladakh into focus. At the culmination of the fast almost the whole Ladakh poured in to thank him at Polo Ground, Leh.  

At the Jantar Mantar on Feb. 15, Wangchuk reiterated his views but tried to bring a wider focus on what he says are political and environmental issues faced by Ladakh after the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019. He urged the Union government to take a considerate view of the demands of the Ladakhi people.

“Our issues are pertaining to democracy and environment,” said Wangchuk and talked at length about the impact of melting glaciers in Ladakh if the government allows unhindered access to the region and permits industrialists to exploit the mineral-rich vast area for mining.

He said, “First of all, Ladakh is very fragile in terms of the environment. I called my fast ‘climate fast’. I named it ‘climate fast’ so that people who live in Ladakh also change their lifestyles so that the environment will not get impacted. The glaciers in our mountains shouldn’t turn dry. It will not only impact Ladakh. Today we suffer floods for one year in Ladakh and the next year we face hunger as glaciers have changed due to human activities. To save Ladakh’s glaciers is the duty of all. Around 200 crore people are dependent on these glaciers of Himalayas.”.

Wangchuk urged “fellow countrymen” across India to play their part to save Ladakh. He said, “We are asking the government to save these mountains, the people of the mountains and with it they will save their culture. Their culture has developed along with these mountains for thousands of years. It is the responsibility of all to save this culture. It is not just the responsibility of the people of Ladakh.”

To bring a larger focus on Ladakh, Wangchuk pushed the envelope further saying it is not only the duty of India but of the world to save the centuries-old culture.

He said, “The world has much to learn from those in India who live on the foothills of mountains, along rivers and streams. India will not become Vishwa Guru due to Delhi or Mumbai but because the world has a lot to learn from the indigenous knowledge system of the tribal population of the country, those living on the foothills of the mountains, along the rivers and in the forests. The world has to learn how in simple life people can live a happy and satisfied life. This was my environment argument.”

Then drawing attention towards the larger political issue, Wangchuk said over three years ago when Ladakh became a Union Territory, they were happy with the decision and thought their demands would be accepted later.

He said, “Ladakh had demanded UT with the legislature. They wanted UT and also the legislature. For the past 30 years, I have seen our leaders asking for UT with the legislature. We got UT without a legislature. We thought the legislature will be the next step in this democratic devolution of power.” 

Wangchuk said indeed the government increased the budget of Ladakh and it is now Rs 6,000 crore, “But Ladakh Hill Council has powers to spend up to Rs 500 crores, rest Rs 5,500 Crore are with the Lt governor”. 

He said, “We are hopeful that Ladakh will be given UT with the legislature. Why shouldn’t Ladakh be given statehood? I don’t think it is not wrong thing. Some say how come Ladakh having a very less population can become a state? When Sikkim with a population of around 2.5 lakh could become the state some 50 years ago, why not Ladakh now?


“After the abrogation of Article 370, the federal government had given assurance after assurance that Ladakh will be included in the Sixth Schedule. Even when the Ladakh Hill Council polls were held, the BJP in its manifesto promised the Sixth Schedule. The party announced it in their election manifesto. We were thankful that BJP gave us Union Territory. But it was shocking to us when they refused to concede our demand for the Sixth Schedule.” 

Wangchuk alleged that it has now become a crime in Ladakh to even talk about the Sixth Schedule and people are arrested for raising this demand.


“What kind of democracy is it that you promise something and then go back on your promise? The promise was given to us. We are hopeful that in the next session of the parliament our leaders will take up this issue,” said wangchuk.

Giving a veiled threat, Wangchuk said, “If Ladakhis’ demands are not accepted, people will lose trust in democracy. Even outside India, Ladakh will be cited as an example where democracy is trampled.”

Wangchuk has given a new direction to the Ladakhi agitation. The only thing is whether the BJP government will concede anything to Ladakh.