We got what we wanted, but at what cost?: A Ladakhi’s concern for Kashmir

Kevin Ilango for The Caravan Kevin Ilango
28 September, 2019

On 5 August, the Narendra Modi-led government removed the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution. The government downgraded the state into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. It then enforced a communications blockade in the region, which is still ongoing. The government has since claimed that the situation on the ground is peaceful, and that people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have all welcomed the move. News reports from the region, however, contradict this claim.

In “State Subjects,” The Caravan is featuring a collection of voices from various parts of the erstwhile state. Rigzin Yangdol, a Ladakhi marketing professional, discusses her apprehensions regarding Ladakh’s new union territory status.

On the morning of 5 August, a friend asked me, “What is your take on the news?” I did not know what he was referring to. “UT for Ladakh,” he said. I replied, “Yes, that has been our demand for ages. I will be happy if we get it.” I thought he must have seen a Ladakhi protest video asking for the status of a separate union territory. Later, when everyone around me started talking about it, I realised that it had happened. I went numb for some time. I could not believe it. The union territory of Ladakh seemed to be next to impossible considering the sensitive issue of the Kashmir conflict. For a large democratic country like India, where it takes years to pass a simple law, it was so sudden. I felt a sigh of relief. But when I thought about the way we were given the union territory status, the sense of freedom I felt wavered.

I was born in the 1990s and grew up in the rich cultural heritage of Ladakh. I felt proud to be a Ladakhi. But I never saw Ladakh anywhere, be it in school or in the media. We seemed to have no representation in any books or on any national platform whatsoever. As a child, this bothered me. Moreover, the fear of losing our peaceful land to the grips of militancy, like what was happening in Kashmir, was so prominent.

While growing up, I saw our elders fighting for union territory status. Ladakhis are not violent, and protests without violence do not get any momentum in this country. The demand just became a customary feature for political parties to mention in their manifestos. I never believed it would be fulfilled in this lifetime, considering the fact that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir has always been represented as Kashmir on national as well as international platforms.

We got what we wanted, but at what cost? Millions of people had to be incarcerated, shut down from the entire world for this to happen. Only time will tell how many innocent lives have been lost. Our union territory would have been welcome by everyone if the government had brought it in a democratic way, via dialogue. How will we justify this to our future generations?

While I am glad we got our due distinct identity that we deserved in this country—even though it is just on the map right now—the future scares me. What will happen to our fragile ecosystem? Will a sudden burst of commercialisation kill our pristine environment? Or will it bring development in the far-flung areas, such as most of the Zanskar region which does not have basic necessities like electricity, telecommunication and most importantly, roads?