August 6, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Thupstan Chhewang

J&K Votes

'The state government does not want us to be effective'

Part I: 'No point in keeping Ladakh as part of J&K'

In seven years of the LAHDC, what is your main achievement?

To some extent, the decision process has come to the representatives of the people of Ladakh. Before, there was a deputy commissioner posted by Srinagar for two years, and although we were supposed to have a committee to help in the process of planning, the commissioner dominated everything and nobody could object to the directions given by the state government.

After the formation of the LAHDC, we take our own decisions. In this sense, it is the biggest achievement. The people of Ladakh are involved in the process of planning and in other subjects devolved to the council under the act. But as I mentioned, there are delays. For example, rules of the act have not yet been framed. The state government does not want us to be effective, it makes it very difficult. I suppose nobody likes to part with his power. There is a tendency for the government machinery to want to keep everything with them, even small matters.

But the creation of such an institution [like the LAHDC] is a democratic process to help address the problems of the people at the grassroots. I think it has made a difference for the people who are today able to approach us directly.

Education seems to have been one of the major problems the council has had to face. What action have you taken?

Till now we had blamed each other for the poor results. Some people held the government responsible, some people pointed fingers at the teachers' community or the parents for their non-involvement in the education process. With the help of NGOs we have organised several meetings to identify the problems and find a solution.

There was a huge gap between the government schools (with sometimes results below 10 per cent) and the private institutions (with results ranging between 90 and 100 per cent). One of the main problems was that Urdu was the medium of instruction till standard VI. It has now been changed to English. Now, after class V, children will be brought to centrally located residential schools and all the expenses will be born by the council. Today the council has an education policy.

But it will take some 10 years to really see the results. We still depend on the state government for many things; for example, for qualified teachers. For several matters, we need approval and concurrence of the state, which makes it very difficult. It is a complex issue.

Are you introducing the Bothi [Ladakhi] language in the school curriculum?

It is difficult. It was suggested, but it is still difficult. We have to enter the mainstream after Class V or VI. We have also to standardise the Ladakhi language, to prepare textbooks, so it will take some time.

Are you still trying to have Bothi included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution?

Yes, definitely! We are trying to make a common issue with other Himalayan regions or states who are using the same language. Now it has been decided by consensus to call this language Bothi, though there was some objection in Ladakh, where some people felt it should be called Ladakhi. But we had to reach a consensus to reach our objective to include it in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

Does the Muslim population agree?

Yes, there is also a consensus amongst Muslims. Before, there was a belief that this language is the language of the Buddhists, but it is not so. Now, even Muslims are supporting the demand.

Could you say a few words on the relations between the two main communities: Buddhist and Muslim?

We have very good relations between the two communities. In 1989, during the Buddhist agitation (for Union Territory status), there were some differences, but now we are back like in the old days. Definitely, in 1989, there were gaps, the two communities had stopped meeting each other.

It is good example for the nation!

Yes, there is a growing feeling that Buddhists and Muslims, whether in Leh or Kargil, have to live together, they have common traditions, common language, common food habits, we depend on each other, we have to live with each other. It has helped to restore the relations.

With your experience, how do you analyse the communal violence that Gujarat has recently witnessed?

In 1989, there was a feeling in Ladakh amongst Buddhists that the local Muslims were being used by outside fundamentalist forces, that they were being incited. Sometimes, in this country, there is a feeling that Muslims, because of their religious affiliation, are being used against the nation, against India. There was such feeling in Ladakh [in 1989].

Of course, our enemy country is always interested to disturb the peace between communities; they are always on the lookout how to incite people with monetary benefits or in the name of jihad. That is the main reason why we have communal disturbances.

In Ladakh, we have the feeling that we have to live together, therefore we should try to reduce the gap. Similarly in other areas, the same efforts should be made.

Some years ago, there was the idea to open the road to Tibet for pilgrimage and trade. Where is it today?

Definitely it should be opened. We have been demanding this with the Government of India. The advantage would be the possibility to drive from Demchok (the border between Ladakh and Tibet) right through to the base camp of Kailash Mansarovar.

Through the UP route (Ministry of External Affairs scheme), people have to undertake a very long trek and for elderly people who wish to make the pilgrimage, it is difficult. Through the Demchok route, there is no problem. You can drive all the way through. In summer, Ladakh has good linkage with the rest of the country. From Leh, Kailash is only a three-day journey.

We requested the Government of India to take up the matter with the Chinese authorities during the course of their border discussions. If the Chinese agree, this route can be opened. Today, it seems that the Chinese do not agree, but I think at the beginning it was not taken seriously by the Government of India. They had their own apprehensions, but now it seems they are also keen on opening the road. Though the Chinese have not yet agreed, if we make more efforts and show the Chinese that the economic benefits accrued from the opening of the road can be shared, the Chinese also may agree. This could bring a great economic boost for the people of the region.

It will be the reopening of the old caravan road?


Does Sindhu Darshan, which projects Ladakh and the Sindhu (Indus) river as the cradle of Indian civilisation, create more awareness amongst Indian citizens about your problems.

In fact it is an irony! As I told you, Ladakh was opened to tourists in 1975 and all these years the number of domestic tourists was very small, you could count them on your fingers. The Sindhis who had to leave Sindh at the time of Partition are very attached to the Sindhu river, but most of them were not aware that it was going through their own country.

It is true that nobody thought of making the Sindhu a focal point for attracting domestic tourists. It is only six years ago that Home Minister Advaniji, during a visit to Ladakh, discovered the Sindhu river. Since then, he has taken a lot of interest in promoting the river, especially with the Sindhis.

Since two or three years, because of the festival, Ladakh is receiving a lot of publicity. Many in India have become aware of the Sindhu and at the same time discovered Ladakh. During the last three years, domestic tourists have come to Ladakh, first because of the Sindhu Darshan festival, but also because we have better air links to Ladakh. It makes a lot of difference, even for foreign tourists who have to plan several months in advance.

Does it help your political problem?

Definitely! Every year during the festival, many central ministers as well as the chief minister of J&K visit Ladakh. It gives us an opportunity to represent our problems and get more schemes sanctioned. Ministers by seeing our problems themselves get a better understanding.

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