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Ladakh Bodies Reach Jammu to Protest Over Statehood, Sixth Schedule

Anees Zargar |
The protesters called for immediate redressal in the wake of increasing concerns over the identity and demography of the region.

Image Courtesy: PTI

Srinagar: Prominent leaders and members of Ladakh’s civil society on Sunday held a protest outside the Jammu Press Club in the winter capital, reiterating their demand for statehood and constitutional safeguards under the Sixth Schedule for the Himalayan region.

The protest was led by leaders of the Leh Apex Body (LAB) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA), representing numerous social, political and religious bodies from Leh and Kargil divisions.

Scores of protesters gathered outside the press club carrying placards that read messages like “We Want Democracy in Ladakh” and “Ladakh demands Statehood and Sixth Schedule”. The protesters also raised slogans related to their demands and called for immediate redressal in the wake of increasing concerns over the identity and demography of the region.

The protest comes days after the two key bodies dismissed the central government’s “high-powered” committee over issues related to its mandate and the composition of the members. The 17-member committee was earlier constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for deliberations over the region’s concerns over culture and language that the protesting community of Ladakh said was too ambiguous. The protesters, however, acknowledged that the only way forward is to hold a dialogue and urged the authorities to address their concerns immediately.

We are ready to hold dialogue with the government as we have not rejected the committee. But we urge the government to revisit the agenda for the committee and include our 4-point demands and rectify the composition of the members,” political activist Sajjad Kargili said.

Sunday’s protest is part of a year-long plan by the representative bodies to strive for the rights that include four main points including statehood for Ladakh, constitutional safeguards on the lines of the Sixth Schedule (which grants autonomy to tribal communities), formation of a Public Service Commission, reservation of jobs for Ladakhis and the creation of two separate parliamentary constituencies for Leh and Kargil.

The amalgam has been spearheading protests in both Leh and Kargil earlier, and the Jammu protest is the first such rally outside the newly created union territory. The members of the KDA and LAB told NewsClick that they will be holding the next protest at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar in the coming weeks.

We feel that we have been betrayed. Our youth are struggling for jobs and they are frustrated. Our main democratic institution, the hill council, has been disempowered. The LG administration controls rights over land and there are reports that our land will be made available for corporates, threatening our jobs, our ecology and democracy,” Kargili added.

A UT status for Ladakh was an old demand of the people living in the region, which is sparsely inhabited. But as Jammu and Kashmir was divided into two union territories on August 5, 2019, it also took away the region’s ‘special status’, which guaranteed rights over land and jobs reserved for locals. Regional political parties considered this move “arbitrary” and “illegal” and it raised demographic concerns amongst the region's people.

The two bodies have threatened a wider stir unless their demands are met. The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders from Ladakh, who had earlier expressed their support to the agitation, have since distanced themselves, skipping Sunday’s rally in Jammu.

The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a grouping in Jammu and Kashmir formed to advocate the restoration of pre-August 5 status for the region, has extended its support to the LAB protest plan.

PAGD spokesperson and senior politician MY Tarigami in a statement said that the people of Ladakh have finally realised that they were “better off in J&K”. “Hope the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh put up a united fight for the restoration of their legitimate rights,” he said in a tweet.

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