We Have Been Fooled In The Name Of Union Territory, Say Ladakhi Protesters Seeking Statehood

Ladakh’s leaders are seeking statehood and safeguards for the region’s tribal population under the Constitution of India, among other demands. They say the promises made at the time Ladakh was carved out of Jammu and Kashmir as a Union territory remain unfulfilled.

Protesters from Ladakh raise statehood and other demands in a protest in Jammu.

The politics of the Union territory (UT) of Ladakh has started reverberating in Jammu and Kashmir as Ladakhi protesters descended in Jammu on Sunday to hold a protest over their demand of statehood. 

In August 2019, the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two UTs —one comprising the Jammu and Kashmir region and the other comprising Ladakh. The Ladakhis are now protesting their status as a UT and are demanding statehood. 

Members of Leh Apex Body and the Kargil Democratic Alliance, an amalgam of different political groups of Ladakh and Kargil, on Sunday lodged protest in Jammu. Besides statehood for Ladakh, they also sought safeguards under the Sixth Schedule of Constitution of India and other guarantees to safeguard land and jobs for locals in Ladakh.

“For past three years, the UT administration and the Union Home Ministry have been playing with the future of our youth,” said Asgar Ali Karbalai, Co-Chairman of Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA), while addressing protesters. The KDA is an amalgam of different political parties of Kargil.

Karbalai said they would be holding another protest in Delhi to convey to the “blind, deaf, and dumb” government the concerns of Ladakhis. 

“We are from the mountains. We are people who have fought for the country since 1948 and secured our borders. Let the government hear it. We will not retreat,” said Karbalai.

Karbalai said Ladakhis are united on these issues and the government cannot pitch Kargil against Leh or Buddhists against Muslims. The Ladakh UT comprises two districts of Leh and Ladakh and the population is mainly Muslims and Buddhists. 

“We are ready to participate in the talks but not on their terms,” said Karbalai.

Amid anti-bureaucracy slogans, Chering Dorjay, leader of the Apex Body of Leh and senior Vice President of Ladakh Buddhist Association, said they are protesting over four demands:

  • Statehood for Ladakh
  • Constitutional safeguards under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India to protect the interest of the tribal people of Ladakh
  • Formation of Public Service Commission and reservation of jobs for youth of Ladakh
  • Creation of two separate parliamentary constituencies for Leh and Kargil

Former J&K Tourism Minister Rigzin Jora said the Ladakhis have bee fooled in the name of UT.

“In the name of the UT, we have been fooled. We were promised that Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils will be empowered. Instead, they have been rendered powerless,” said Jora, who is also a leader of Apex Body Leh. 

Addressing the protesters, Jora said the recruitment powers have been taken away from the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils and given to the staff selection committee, which, according to him, is not even a “constitutional body”.  He said everyone has been eligible for recruitment in Ladakh.

KDA leader Sajad Kargili said the four demands of the people of Ladakh are genuine. He said the government had promised they would talk to the KDA and the Apex Body on these demands. 

“Instead the government came up with the High Power Committee and didn’t include any of our four demands,” said Kargili. 

Kargili said it is the main reason the KDA and Apex Body didn’t want to become part of the committee. However, he said they are not against talks. He said they are willing to be part of any transparent negotiation.

In December 2022, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) formed a committee that will “discuss measures to protect the region’s unique culture and language taking into consideration its geographical location and its strategic importance”.

However, days after the MHA constituted a high-powered committee headed by Union Minister of State (MoS) for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai to “ensure protection of land and employment” for the people of Ladakh, political parties of Ladakh laid four conditions including discussion over the statehood for Ladakh for having the meeting.

For the past three years since the abrogation of Article 370, the Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance have been seeking constitutional safeguards for Ladakh.

The high powered committee comprises Ladakh’s Lieutenant Governor Radha Krishna, Ladakh MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, Chairman of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (Leh), Chairman of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (Kargil), Joint Secretary of MHA (for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh Affairs), Director and Deputy Secretary MHA (Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh), and one nominated member from MHA. The committee will also have members from Apex Body Leh and Kargil Democratic Alliance.