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Huge Rally in Ladakh to Demand Statehood and Inclusion in Sixth Schedule

The gatherings in the Leh and Kargil districts of the Ladakh region took place at the call for a complete shutdown by the Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance.
Huge rally

Thousands of people mobilised in the Leh and Kargil districts of the Ladakh region on Saturday, February 3, on the call for a complete shutdown by the Leh Apex Body (LAB) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA). The two organisations have been leading a movement "to demand special rights for the people of Ladakh after the region was separated from Jammu and Kashmir" with the abrogation of Article 370. 

The demands of the movement include the restoration of statehood for Ladakh. The region was changed from a state to a Union territory (without a legislature) on August 5, 2019. The other demands include "tribal status for Ladakh, with its inclusion in the constitution's Sixth Schedule, job reservation for locals and a parliamentary seat each for the Leh and Kargil districts." 

There has been a round of meetings between the two organisations and a committee appointed by the Centre on December 4, 2023. In the first meeting, the committee addressed the constitutional safeguards for the region. However, both LAB and KDA adamantly stuck to all of their four demands. The next round of meetings will take place in Delhi on February 19. 

As per a report by The Wire, both districts observed complete shutdowns. Businesses were closed in Leh and Kargil; the shutdown was observed even in the remote areas such as Zanskar and Nubra valleys. 

The protesters were not deterred by the intense cold. Protesters of all ages and genders gathered at the Polo Ground in Leh to follow the 'Leh Chalo' protest call given by the two organisations. The leaders of LAB and KDA addressed the gathering. 

The speakers included Magsaysay award winner Sonam Wangchuk. In his speech, Wangchuk recalled how several Union ministers of the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government had promised to include the region in the sixth schedule after Article 370 was struck down in 2019. Wangchuk also mentioned election manifestos released by the BJP for the 2019 General elections and the 2020 Leh Hill Council election. In those manifestos, the BJP "advocated constitutional safeguards for Ladakh and its inclusion in the Sixth Schedule." 

“After these announcements, there is a deafening silence (from the Centre). Those who speak of the Sixth Schedule are being subject to harassment. Now, there are lobbies in the mining industry who want to destroy Ladakh. We are only demanding our constitutional rights, and we will not rest until it happens,” Wangchuk said.

The protesters came from all corners of the Ladakh region. One protester that The Wire spoke to came to Leh from Turtuk, the last village on the India-Pakistan border in Ladakh. 

"I understand the importance of issues such as the Sixth Schedule and statehood because our community lives in front of the enemy. I fully support the demands of LAB and KDA," Syed Zafar Mehdi, one of the protesters, told The Wire

Alongside the Leh gathering, there was a similar gathering of thousands of people in the Kargil districts. 

Cheering Dorjay, a former Jammu and Kashmir minister and one of the members of LAB, said that the large gathering is a "clear message" to the Union government. 

"We are demanding anything extra-constitutional. Tribal status is the right of the people of Ladakh. The Centre should respect our sentiments," Dorjay, who resigned as Ladakh BJP chief in 2020, said.

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