Sonam Wangchuk’s Hunger Strike: Betrayal of Ladakh, Government Ignoring Us, Urges Attention

Environmentalists have embarked on a 21-day hunger strike advocating for full statehood and constitutional protection for Ladakh. Sonam Wangchuk, a prominent environmentalist and recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, is among those participating in the strike, which entered its sixth day on Monday. Wangchuk expressed to Bhaskar that the Central government has denied Ladakh its democratic rights. He emphasized that the government is backtracking on its promise under the influence of major industrialists. Wangchuk stated that if he survives the hunger strike, he intends to hold up a mirror to the nation.

Question: What is your biggest demand?

Response: Ladakh was an independent state since 1947, but due to a historical mistake, it became part of Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh was granted Union Territory status in 2019. Our demand was for the formation of a union territory with a legislature, which would ensure democracy. Unfortunately, this did not materialize.

Question: What promise did the government break?

Response: The government broke the promise to protect sensitive areas that are constitutionally segregated on linguistic-cultural grounds. According to the constitution, a state where more than 50% of the population is tribal should receive protection. Ladakh, with 97% tribal population, is still not protected. In the 2019 parliamentary and Ladakh Hill Council elections, the BJP promised protection to Ladakh in its manifesto. However, after winning, the promises were not fulfilled.

Question: What is the government’s rationale behind the refusal?

Response: The government is not providing any rationale; it is simply saying no. Ladakh is like a separate planet, and its protection is necessary. However, if the industries here come under central control, they will operate without realizing the importance of this place. We fear that the same tragedy happening in Himachal and Uttarakhand today will be seen here. That is why we are against it.

Question: Is full statehood necessary?

Response: We may not get full statehood, but granting Union Territory (UT) status with an assembly would allow decisions about Ladakh to be made by the people here, not by a Lieutenant Governor nominated from outside. Ladakh is very remote for people coming from outside, and they may not be aware of the local culture and traditions. It takes at least 4 years to understand Ladakh. Earlier, Lt. Governor BD Mishra was very sensitive to the issue. However, a year ago, he claimed that nothing will happen now.

Question: Are the local BJP leaders in your support?

Response: Yes, many local-level leaders are with us, but there are 10-15 big leaders who have remained silent on the matter, so they are not actively supporting us.

Niyati Rao

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