Ladakh Activist Sonam Wangchuk’s Hunger Strike Enters 15th Day, Focuses on Statehood and Constitutional Protections

Ladakh Activist Sonam Wangchuk's Hunger Strike Enters 15th Day, Focuses on Statehood and Constitutional Protections

Braving sub-zero temperatures, environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk began his ‘climate fast’ on March 6.

The Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) on Tuesday called for a half-day general strike on Wednesday, March 20, in solidarity with renowned education reformist Sonam Wangchuk, who has been on a hunger strike in Leh since March 6 over his demand for statehood and constitutional safeguards under the sixth schedule for the Union Territory of Ladakh.

Braving sub-zero temperatures, environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk began his ‘climate fast’ after talks between the joint representatives of Leh-based Apex body and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) heading an agitation in support of four-point demands and the central government hit a deadlock.

On Tuesday, Sonam Wangchuk said that he, along with other agitators, was planning a border march soon to highlight the “ground reality” to the outside world.

“Our nomads are losing prime pasture land to huge Indian industrial plants to the south & Chinese encroachment to the north. To show the ground reality we’re planning a Border March of 10,000 Ladakhi shepherds & farmers soon,” he announced.

What are Sonam Wangchuk’s demands?

Through the protest, Sonam Wangchuk is pushing for four key demands that include statehood and implementation of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in the region.

The Constitution’s Sixth Schedule guarantees protections for land and a nominal autonomy for the country’s tribal areas. In 2019, as part of its abolition of Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) special constitutional status, New Delhi granted Union Territory (UT) status to Ladakh.

Wangchuk also seeks a separate Lok Sabha seats for Leh and Kargil districts, a recruitment process and a separate Public Service Commission for Ladakh.

He also claims that the union territory tag has made Ladakh vulnerable to industrial exploitation which could devastate the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayan region.

Centre broke people’s trust: Sonam Wangchuk

Sonam Wangchuk alleges that the Centre, after a delay of four years, has straightaway declined to fulfil the promises.

“After four years of dilly dallying tactics, the Centre, finally on March 4, straightaway declined to fulfil the promises. This is a total breach of trust and faith in leaders, governments and elections and if this continues it will set a very bad precedent for all elections and governments to come,” Wangchuk said.

“We hear that Prime Minister Modi is an aspirant of the Nobel peace prize. Well, I know the Nobel foundation because I have done lectures there at investiture ceremonies and trust (me) integrity of character is one of the minimum values they expect. The other simple appeal the people of Ladakh are making from the government is to restore basic democracy,” he added.

Wangchuk also said while Jammu and Kashmir is likely to get full democracy after assembly elections, Ladakh will be left under the rule of a bureaucracy controlled from New Delhi.

“The government likes to call India the ‘Mother of Democracy’. But if India denies democratic rights to people of Ladakh and continues to keep it under bureaucrats controlled from New Delhi then it could only be called a stepmother of democracy as far as Ladakh is concerned,” he asserted, appealing to the public at large to lend support to their call.

“On March 24, if possible I urge the people across the world to hold little congregations and fast in your cities,” he concluded.

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