At this juncture, wherein wave of election is all around which propelled me to write this article to highlight certain issues regarding the alienation of Ladakh with rest of India. Being a convener of Ladakh Connectivity Movement (LCM) I have some empirical field experiences and participated in the series of protests held in National Capital to assert our grievances to the Government of India. The movement was organized in collaboration with many associations like Ladakh Student Welfare Society Delhi (LSWSD), All Ladakh Tour Operator Association (ALTOA) and New Ladakh Movement (NLM). This movement started against the excessive airfare from Delhi to Leh which was higher than Delhi to Beijing and many other international destinations. The first protest at ministry of civil aviation on 28th February 2014, followed by second protest rally on 4th march 2014 at Jantar Mantar and memorandum was presented to the President of India and the prime minister, but sadly they did not respond to it nor did media covered the rally. The third protest held on 9th march 2014, at Connaught Place and blocked the jam-packed traffic for almost 40 minutes, but that time interestingly people came out of their cars and supported us, it was heartwarming when we heard people whispering saying ‘their demands are genuine’.
Unlike typical traditional protests with shouting catchphrases, this protest is different in many ways. I think it was the most creative rally which the nation has ever seen, with an alien mask on face or painted faces, all the participants chained themselves with locks so that the police could not scare them. The rationale behind the alien mask was to express that “Ladakhi feels like an alien in our own country”. Furthermore, each one was equipped with flowers to be given to the policemen while explaining them about the problems and grievances, without shouting even a single slogan, message was conveyed through banners, placards and handouts. The main purpose of all these was to convey our message through media, but unfortunately, again media turns deaf ears to us. Moreover, an irony was that on the same day of our protest on 9 March 2014, Media gave full coverage to congress vice president Rahul Gandhi when he gifted his new Jacket to one of his fan. It seems that his jacket is more important than the people who are longing to reach out their voice to our fellow citizens and concern policy makers. This is the situation of world largest democratic country, even after 64 year of our independence where media is accessible only to certain section of society.
Owing to the fact that Ladakh in the heart of Himalayan Mountains in such a harsh climatic condition and acting as a bulwark of patriotic people against all enemies. Yet again Ladakh feel that the nation could have treated us better as we are already treated harshly by the nature. Today, especially in the midst of election season Ladakh genuinely need to ask some questions to the nation so that whosoever comes to form the next government would take into consideration.
Why common Ladakhi people have to pay costlier than the airfare from Delhi to Beijing, London and Mumbai? Is it the way how nation should treat sensitive borders like Ladakh? How long the government of India will be a mute spectator despite series of requests and protests? Traveling in flights is not a luxury for the people of Ladakh rather it is the only option and exploits our situation of being landlocked for almost six to seven months in a year. One can possibly imagine the problems face by Ladakhi from the fact that two youths from Kargil found dead at Zojila on 5th April 2014, due snow avalanche. It has been a long pending demand of the Zojila tunnel project to end the isolation of Ladakh from rest of India is yet to be fulfilled. Another adverse for the people of Kargil is that an airport has been constructed long time back, but no civilian air services have been operated successfully till today.
One can understand or there could be many good reasons for why Ladakh is lacking behind with reference to surface connectivity like Road, Railway track, and tunnel, because of tough geographical terrain and harsh climatic condition, but how can we explain that why Ladakh have to be ‘secluded’ even digitally when it costs almost nothing extra to connect, whether it is Ladakh or Banglore? On the other hand, China has successfully developed unimaginable infrastructure and connected all the border areas through both surface as well as digitally. In this sphere it seems that Ladakh is meted out a step motherly treatment. As a matter of fact, Ladakh tourism industry is badly affected. Apart from that many countries in the world are in search of Ladakh like geographical location which is ideally suitable for software industries, but in India instead of materializing such important climatic condition for empowering local as well as nation’s economy, rather kept in isolation as if they are not a part of India. In this regard Ladakh is neglected whether it is digital, air transport and media connectivity. We feel that Ladakh should be given positive discrimination compared to the low-land cities we are challenged in all respects.
A sensitive country must not keep their border areas unconnected to the mainland rather priorities should be given to these areas. Keeping the border areas isolated would bring serious repercussion to national security. Ladakhi people somehow become prey of occupying their own Land which perpetually falls under the strategic framework of three nations. It is in this context, today Ladakh confronting challenges in two ways. On one hand, China is regularly intruding into our territory and on the other hand, New Delhi is running away from its responsibilities towards Ladakh. Today, most of the leaders talk about National Integration but it’s very sad when the people from sensitive borders are made to feel so alienated from their own capital. None of the party feels need to be reflected such grievances in their manifestos provided that many letters, requests, and protests had been made. As patriotic Indians we Ladakhis want to raise our voice against this dangerous policy or lack of any policy, in the interest of the national security.
The writer Tashi Lundup is a Ph.D Scholar,Centre for the Study of Social System, School of Social Sciences, at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi