A Personal Account Of The Day Ladakh Became A Union Territory

by | Sep 23, 2019

Featured Image Source – Amar Ujaala

We were sitting in the middle of a session by the founder of Snow Leopard Conservancy in Leh, Tsewang Namgail, when his teammate Jigmet Dadul, gave him the news about Ladakh becoming a Union Territory. In the middle of his speech, Tsewang mentioned ever so lightly that now we are sitting in the union territory of Ladakh, and continued on the importance of building conscious children who know about the flora and fauna of their own localities. None of us were being able to pay attention to his words after this news. 

I had been in Ladakh for about 7 days then and some sort of connection had been built with this antique territory. I wanted to peep out the window to look at the Ladakhi people and judge their expressions, become part of whatever they were feeling. After an hour when the conversation with Tsewang gave us an insight into the value of Ladakh in his life, we rushed outside the doors of SLC, to find our taxi drivers in excitement about the news. 

“Thank god we are no longer part of Kashmir.”

“There will be a celebration on the streets tonight.”

These two dialogues we definitely heard at 1pm in the afternoon. Then we were on our way to the next non-profit that works with the specially-abled populace of the district and gives them alternate sources of livelihood, People’s Action Group for Inclusion and Rights (PAGIR). This time we were digging the superficial effects of this kind of separation and the kind of power that Ladakh will be left with after becoming a union territory.

Ladakh comprises of two districts, Leh and Kargil, of which Kargil has a majority population of Muslims and Leh has Buddhists, in total making it a count of 2.74 lakhs in an area of about 60,000 kilometre squares. The Tibets, Kashmiris and tourists are seasonal visitors, some who stay back in all seasons in some years. The Union Territory was going to stand without an assembly, what that would mean is a reduction of power closely in the hands of the Ladakhi people. The centre will be the decision-maker. From being an autonomous region with more power in the hands of the Ladakhi people in the theoretical sense, now it will not be a state with an equal share in the federal structure, but a union territory with even lesser control over their own affairs. Did our taxi drivers know this? We asked them, and they said they had no idea what being a union territory meant but asking to become one had been a long battle. 

On our way back from PAGIR, we crossed the Leh main market, to see barricades all over. There was a black Scorpio and a few other cars at the edge of the long corridor at the main market where all the hustle bustle happened. An orange flag of the Bharatiya Janta Party was waving at us from the hood of the car. The entire market area looked deserted, probably how it would look like in the winter.  

Independence Day Celebration Image Source – https://www.aninews.in

At 4:30 pm we entered 17,000ft Foundation, which was in the same market area and sat in for another aspect of this region, education. Fiona Dias Miranda, the co-director of the foundation, was taking us through the distribution of schools in Leh district, and we were now finally immersed back in understanding more about this landscape. After an hour of interaction we hear loud bands and music traveling through the market. There was the sound of celebration we had been waiting for! But it lasted only about 8 to 10 minutes. This time I wanted to rush out into the market and see these people who were celebrating and join the celebrations with them! But we had to wait another hour to get out of the place, and to what? Unfortunately only to witness the market back in it’s daily slow moving crowd. There were no signs of any celebration, no remains of excitement or no talk of the current political status.

How is it possible that just an hour ago they were all celebrating and now it seemed like it was my imagination? Right then another procession of cars passed with BJP flags waving at me again, the men inside and on top of the cars were screaming with joy and whooshed past us in just a flicker of a moment. That’s when I realised, it was only a staged celebration. Real life isn’t like movies, people might be happy, but they aren’t extreme, unless it’s for the larger world to see …

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