Solidarity meeting with the Human rights struggle in Ladakh

Mar 24, 2024
Relevant State

An edited transcript 

Kavita Srivastava: We thank all of you almost 400 people, for attending. This shows the concern that the country has for the people of Ladakh. The people of Ladakh, under the leadership of Mr Sonam Wangchuk and all other friends, are fighting against the government policies to save the Himalayas for all of us. For us who live in the desert, who live in the plains, the hills. 

The entire Himalayan region is in a crisis. We just saw how the Teesta dam broke. There were such terrible floods. We see Joshimath and what is happening out there. So friends, this particular struggle is taking place in Ladakh and the form is a fast unto death led by Sonam Wangchuk ji and one other colleague. Every day, thousands of citizens sit as part of the token fast. On one side the Chinese armies are encroaching. On the other side, industrialization is devastating the region. So, today, we have to stand in solidarity with the people of Ladakh. 

We are not just in solidarity with their struggles but also with the whole region and all those who are trying to save the Himalayas. 

Ashish Kothari: I am not speaking on behalf of Ladakh. We have 5-6 wonderful Ladakhi friends there on the ground. I think what’s very important is that actually hundreds of organizations and thousands of people across India, and today across the world who are expressing solidarity to what is happening in Ladakh, understanding that what is happening in Ladakh is happening all over India, the whole world in some sense or the other. Hence the fight that these people are fighting, not only for themselves but for the whole world. 

Ladakh was actually an independent kingdom for a thousand years and then was brought into subjugation over a couple of hundred years. It had always felt neglected or alienated, whether it was under Kashmir state or now, especially even more so under New Delhi as a Union Territory. This feeling of neglect and alienation, and in fact the fear of what would be coming, is even more so in the last few years, since 2019, when the Government of India took the drastic action, in respect of both Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh.

 At that point in time, the Leh district people were happy, but they soon realized that being under New Delhi was possibly even worse. The power has shifted away from Ladakhis themselves to New Delhi, and the decisions are being made in Delhi with respect to Ladakh, and almost Rs. 6,000 crores per annum budget has been spent. Most of that is happening through politicians/ bureaucrats who are sitting outside Ladakh, who do not necessarily understand the absolutely unique cultural, ecological and  social features of Ladakh itself. 

Recently a vision 2050 was made by Ernst and Young company as if the people of Ladakh do not have the expertise to create their own Visions. If you look at a recent industrial land allocation policy for allocating lands for industries, although it says that Ladakhis will be considered for the clearance process itself, it has nobody from Ladakh- none of the hill council members, none of the panchayat members or local communities in the single window clearance process. The biggest fear actually I think, for all of us, and especially for Ladakhis, is to do with land, including nature and natural resources. If people from outside make the decisions, people across the country will already be eying the land and natural resources, including minerals and water, for profit. This will have a strong social and ecological impact. Since, 2019, a lot of companies are  eyeing the land in Ladakh for mega tourist projects, for dams, for mining and so on. Right now, there is a very active proposal for a mega solar project over something like 20,000 acres of land in Chang Thang, which is  one of the most fragile ecosystems of the country. Sonam Wangchuk and other activists  have said that they are going to do a long march to the area, to show what’s happening to the Nomadic community, the wildlife, the ecosystems. They will also march to highlight the incursions by the  Chinese into the border area there. 

The way the central government sees Ladakh is the same way it sees other marginal and peripheral areas of India.  There are 3 or 4 kinds of hegemonies or dominations that I would like to talk about. One,  is commercial /industrial profit making. There are many such possibilities in such a vast landscape, for extractive and destructive kind of commercial activities. Second, is considering it a security zone because it is also a border area to actually establish and   continue to sustain some kind of militarized control. Third, is religious hegemony. One of the most interesting things that happened out of the current movement and agitation is the coming together of Kargil and Leh, as well as the Islam and Buddhist populations of Leh and Kargil. This is something that is not digestible to the central government. Fourth, the narrative itself- to make Ladakh so-called carbon neutral, so-called sustainable development. This narrative that is being pushed not just Ladakh, but also in  Kashmir, Manipur, rest of the northeast India, Lakshadweep, Nicobar and Kutch. Central Government has a similar vision for all these areas.

So therefore, it is crucial for the rest of India and the rest of the world to understand and support the struggles in Ladakh and other areas, including the Aadiwasi-dominated areas in central India. Basically, all of these areas are sought to be subjugated in order to establish these sorts of hegemonies.

The other very crucial reason why the rest of India needs to wake up to what is happening in Ladakh and extend solidarity is the ecological function.The water security of the whole subcontinent depends on what we do in places like Ladakh and the rest of Northeast Himalayas. The glaciers, the run-off snow, runoff rivers- all that originate here are the lifelines of 1.5 to 2 billion people. So we should not take it as a small struggle by 300,000 people but as a struggle for the entire Indian subcontinent, and we must be in solidarity with that. 

We express solidarity, through these webinars and online meeting, I would request all the 500 + people join various actions to save Ladakh.  The smallest possible action, can actually be absolutely crucial. 

Tsewang Namgail: I’ll just briefly talk about the environmental issues in Ladakh. When we talk about the environment and the fragile ecosystem of Ladakh, one thing that people all across the country need to understand if the uniqueness of this  trans-Himalayan landscape. If you look at the distribution of that landscape in India, more than 90% of that landscape occurs in Ladakh. It has a unique culture and unique biodiversity that has been attracting people from all across the world. Today it is one of the most important tourist destination in the country. So, it is really drawing in a lot of people from across the world, and that is something that all of us need to keep in mind. It behoves all of us, all the citizens of this country, to really protect and conserve this landscape because of its  uniqueness. 

It is not just about the livelihoods and the culture of people, it is about the lives of thousands and thousands of animals, whose lives are also at stake. The animals that have been sustaining the people in these remote mountains and remote valleys for centuries.  just to give you an example, the snow leopard controls the population of the mountain sheep and goats and prevents overgrazing. This in turn promotes planned regeneration on the mountain slopes and that prevents flooding. There is an ecological link between the snow leopard population and flooding. Most of the Asian rivers are originating in the snow Leopard habitat in Ladakh. If we do not pay attention to conserving the population of the animals in these mountains, than the water availability both for drinking and irrigation to  one third of the world population would be affected. Water is going to be very precious resource and people say that there might be wars over water.

Another point I would like to drive home is the importance of the land  area for these animals. These are not like the animals that you have in the plains of India, which can rely on a small territory because the resources are very abundant there. But in the mountains, resources are very scattered and they are dispersed all over the landscape. So they have to cover huge areas to really acquire the resources to sustain even a small population. These animals (mountain sheeps and goat) have been providing ecosystem services. They support the snow leopard. I told you the importance of snow leopard, and how is important to conserve the snow leopard. So this also goes for the Pashmina goat herders, as they also need huge territories to really graze and sustain the livestock that they have. Pashmina is a very important industry, for which Kings have actually invaded Ladakh in the past. And today when we talk about the importance of having statehood and Legislative Assembly in Ladakh, one of the counterargument is that Ladakh does not have the resoures to be  state. However, these are  the resource that historically Ladakhis really tried to defend so that we can have our own livelihood options. 

What is happening is that many springs across Ladakh in the interior parts are drying up and because of that, many of these wild animals are coming down to the Indus to drink. Along the Indus they have planned a lot of projects. Already things are happening, and the route to the water for these animals would be blocked. There are so many issues not just for the Ladakhis, but for the entire country, and the water security of the country. 


Mustafa Haji: आप सभी का बहुत-बहुत शुक्रिया इसको प्रोग्राम को करने के लिए। और मैं हमारे सोनुम वांगचुक जी हैं, उनका भी शुक्रिया अदा करता हूँ  जो कि 18 दिनों से  he has been fasting, but because you did not have enough time I will only focus on the main issues that I feel from a constitutional point of view and a federal point of view. But before that 

Thank you all for organising this programme. I am also very grateful to Sonam Wangchukji for continuing his fast for the last 18 days. I cannot stress enough how important it is to preserve the fragile environment, as people have already highlighted. This is because there are many endangered species in Ladakh and the ecology in itself is quite fragile. The area is also   critically important in terms of national security.

Ladakh has become a place of contradictions and paradoxes. As a part of Jammu and Kashmir, we used to have four MLAs and two MLCs in the Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir because it was bicameral. Post the removal of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on 5th of August, we do not have representation whatsoever.

There is a  paradox, when  the Hon’ble Supreme court in multiple observations says that by demoting a full fledged state with special provisions to a union territory  was not right, they did not extend the analysis to Ladakh. They say that we need to restore statehood and the legislative assembly  to Jammu and Kashmir, because it is a part of the federal structure which is a part of the  basic structure of the Constitution. Yet,  it does not say anything about Ladakh because we also have  the same MLA’s anyway you practically speaking we should also be a state. 

 Ladakh, post these changes,  went back to the position of 1947 where there is no protection for Ladakh whatsoever. Another contradiction is that the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and multiple organisations of the Government of India have recommended,  time and time again that Ladakh should be made a schedule tribe area and yet they have not listened to those recommendations.

The biggest paradox is that they in their own manifesto in 2019  MP election, parliamentary election as well as in the Hill council election, had this as one of their major promises, that they want to give 6th schedule status  to Ladakh. That is why the people in Ladakh voted for the BJP and they won with a big margin in the parliamentary election.

Even after having multiple dialogues between the central government and our apex body in the Kargil democratic alliance,  the home minister tells us that he  cannot discuss the  demand for statehood and 6th  schedule status.  This is  a big set back for the  Ladakhis and it is clear that they do not want to empower Ladakh politically.  Even when we are a part of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh is always seen from the point of national security and the people of Ladakh are often  get neglected in that perspective. The government of India needs to change their perspective on Ladakh. Even when you talk about 1999 or the wars which have taken place, there is always a perspective from the defence point of view. They do not give enough consideration to the people of Ladakh and they do not give a humanitarian approach to the problems that the people of Ladakh face. 

 They need to understand from the Ladakhis about how Ladakh should be run and it should not be a top-bottom approach but rather bottom -top approach where we tell the government because  our culture is different, our identity is different our history is different, the approach should be different from a mainland approach. Until or unless the government of India changes its approach,  there can not be a solution to the problem.


(The proceedings of the meeting which was held on March 24, 2024 can be viewed at