Uniting for Change: Sonam Wangchuk’s Fight for Ladakh’s Rights

Business View
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Education reformer, environmentalist, and Indian scientist Sonam Wangchuk has been on a 21-day fast since March 6, 2024, in Ladakh. The protest has been in light of the rapid industrialization of the Union Territory, which has caused an upheaval in the region’s ecology and glaciers; and demanded separate constitutional rights for Ladakh. Wangchuk has been on a hunger strike for the last 20 days, surviving in a chilly temperature of -12 degrees Celsius, and has only had water and salt since then. Reports suggest that his health conditions have worsened, along with body aches, due to the weather. 

Article 370 was abolished on August 5, 2019, and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act was enacted in 2019. Ladakh was declared a separate Union Territory, that too without any legislature. Now Sonam Wangchuk has come up with the demand for statehood, which ensures the protection of a region’s natural resources along with autonomy for tribal areas. His demands also state the inclusion of the UT under the Sixth Schedule implementation. Now that Ladakh stands separated from Jammu and Kashmir, Sonam Wangchuk asks for separate Lok Sabha seats, employment opportunities, and the Public Service Commission for the districts of Leh and Kargil in Ladakh. Till now, Ladakh has only one Lok Sabha constituency. 

Several individuals all over the country have joined him in his protest for Ladakh’s constitutional rights and protection, offering him support from 20 cities across India. Some of his supporters have even asked him to end the strike early due to his deteriorating health conditions, to which he further answered that even after he ends his protest, his supporters will fast in turns to fight in his favor unless Wangchuk gains enough strength and health to fast again. 

The government had promised to conserve the environmental landscape and climate of Ladakh. These promises are in the meeting minutes of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, Tribal, and Law Ministries, as Wangchuk states. “Promises have not been kept. Ladakh has no democratic representation,” he said while talking about those unfulfilled promises and assurances. 

In his Ladakh protest, Sonam Wangchuk also raises concerns about the environmental crisis taking place there. Ladakh has now become a potential spot for multiple business opportunities, which include tourism. The environmentalist shares that mining interests and large corporate houses are likely to cause an imbalance in the natural ecosystem of the region, along with the glacial loss, which has already become a matter of worry for not only the lives of inhabitants of the UT but several Indians who are dependent on its waters. 

Vikalp Sangam released a note on March 22 saying,” Corporate giants have already begun exploring the area for business opportunities (including in tourism) and prospecting for minerals and other natural resources. While some roads and other necessary infrastructure are welcome, what is being planned or constructed is on a mega scale that seems to be more for the benefit of businesses from outside than the people of Ladakh themselves.” This infrastructure development also includes the construction of an airport with a capacity of 2 million visitors, which is over six times the size of the resident population. In addition to this, a mega-solar project is also proposed, which can take up to 20,000 acres of the Changthang pastures, which is significant for wildlife and pastoralists. The region is losing a majority of its pasture lands to industrialization caused by the south and Chinese encroachment to the north. 

To represent the ground reality, Sonam Wangchuk plans a Border March of 10,000 Ladakhi shepherds and farmers soon.

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