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Fasting protests: A display of anger

A feeling of deepening dissatisfaction and anger hangs heavy in the air
12:00 AM Mar 29, 2024 IST | Gulzar Bhat
fasting protests  a display of anger
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"He is weak and very low on energy", this was the response to an interview request from the office of Sonam Wangchuk. However, on my insistence, the climate activist replied to some questions.

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Although his voice was strained and raspy, each word he said reaffirmed his  cast-iron resolve to continue his struggle. It was the 17th day of his fast, and in the evening, he posted a video on X. He was looking quite weary and frail.

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Serving on salt and water, Wangchuk completed his 21 day on Tuesday, which he began on March 6 to press for the statehood and inclusion of Ladakh in the constitution's 6th schedule to safeguard the fragile ecosystem of the region.

Sitting under the expansive open skies, Wangchuk was joined by scores of people amid frigid temperatures during his 21-day long fast. His drawn-out hunger strike has heralded a commencement of a fasting protest festival in the cold desert. The region is poised to witness youth groups, monks, nuns and everyone embarking on fast protests.

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On August 5, 2019, when the Central dispensation put paid to the special constitutional provisions of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and split the region in two union territories, people in Leh district celebrated the move.

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However, as the dust settled, the people from both Kargil and Leh districts formed two separate alliances--Kargil Democratic Alliance ( KDA) and Leh Apex Body ( LAB)-- and resolved to put up a united fight for statehood and other constitutional safeguards.

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Historically, the aspirations of both the districts have always been distinct, but it is the first time that they found themselves aligned.

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Declaring Ladakh a Union Territory was a long-standing demand of the people of Leh. The Ladakhi Buddhist Association, which was formed in 1935, led the agitation in Leh to separate Ladakh from J&K.

They believed that the region faced discrimination due to the political dominance of Kashmir. The people of Kargil, on the other hand, were never happy with the Union Territory status. Even they expressed their displeasure on the actual day of splitting the erstwhile state.

However, the Union Territory without legislature and other constitutional safeguards precipitated fears among the people in the entire region. They believe that it will open floodgates to the outsiders, resulting in harming the fragile ecology of the region.

Wangchuk emphatically asserts that it was not the type of Union Territory that the people of Ladakh had fought for. Even last year, he said that they were better off with Kashmir, where they would elect their representatives to the Assembly.

As multiple rounds of talks between the representatives of Ladakh and New Delhi did not yield any result, a feeling of deepening dissatisfaction and anger hangs heavy in the air in the streets and markets of both the districts of the cold desert. Additionally, the people also felt a sense of betrayal towards the BJP as the constitutional safeguards were part of the party’s election manifesto.

Nobody can gainsay the fact that the unique cultural identity of a region, its ecosystem, heritage and other local sensitives could only be understood, preserved and managed by its own people. Local involvement and ownership are crucial in the preservation and management of culture and environmental assets.

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