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Indians should support Sonam Wangchuk

Wangchuk, who has been seeking protections for the fragile ecology and the indigenous culture of Ladakh had lot of expectations form central government. Wangchuk had been joined by hundreds in Leh as he slept outdoors over the last three weeks.

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Wangchuk came into the limelight in 2009, when his story inspired Aamir Khan’s character Phunsukh Wangdu in the film 3 Idiots directed by Rajkumar Hirani. He has been referred as “The real life Phunsukh Wangdu”. Wangchuk is a Climate activist and he was on fast in Leh, all these while he took water and salt for the last 21 days. Wangchuk, who has been seeking protections for the fragile ecology and the indigenous culture of Ladakh had lot of expectations form central government. Wangchuk had been joined by hundreds in Leh as he slept outdoors over the last three weeks. He also urged people to “use their ballot power very carefully this time, in the interest of the nation”.

J&K and Ladakh were declared two separate UTs following the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. Soon after the euphoria of having an identity separate from J&K had died, Ladakhi people realised that creation of a UT left them without a legislature, depriving them of autonomy in governance. There are also concerns of adequate representation in govt jobs and land rights. In addition, Kargil, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim, was unhappy to be lumped with Buddhist- dominated Leh.

A profounder panic has set in at the blistering pace of ‘development’ projects that have been announced in the last two years. The Centre has cleared seven hydro-electric projects in the Indus basin and its tributaries while also commissioning ONGC to set up a geothermal energy power plant at Puga Valley and a hydrogen unit by NTPC. This has raised concerns among locals of large-scale clearance of forest land. Ladakhis believe their interests will only be protected if they have full statehood. They have also demanded tribal area status under the Sixth Schedule of Article 244 of the Constitution that will provide for establishing autonomous district councils (ADC) in Ladakh and Kargil. ADCs will have the power to impose taxes and make laws in areas such as village government and forest management, while staving off industrial and mining giants in this ecologically-sensitive region.

Ladakh has witnessed several protests over the last four years since it was carved out as a Union Territory, separating it from the former state of Jammu and Kashmir. A high-powered committee with members from both Leh and Kargil regions was formed last year to hold deliberations with the Ministry of Home Affairs over their concerns regarding statehood, protections included in the sixth schedule of the Constitution, as well as issues of political representation. However, these talks reached an impasse over these two key issues on March 4 and Wangchuk began his fast on March 6.

In 2013, on the requests from students’ community of Ladakh, Wangchuk helped launch the New Ladakh Movement (NLM), a social campaign and Ladakh’s version of Green Party with the aim of working for sustainable education, environment and economy. It also aimed at uniting all local political leaders under one banner for the growth and development of Ladakh. Eventually, the members decided to make it into a non-political social movement.

In June 2020, in response to the India-China border skirmishes, Sonam Wangchuk appealed to Indians to use “wallet power” and boycott Chinese products. This appeal was covered by major media houses and supported by various celebrities. Following the Galwan Valley clash on 15 June 2020, there were calls across India to boycott Chinese goods.

On 26 January 2023, to highlight the effects of climate change on the fragile ecosystem of Ladakh and to demand its protection under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, Wangchuk attempted to go on a fast at the Khardungla pass. However, the authorities prevented him from going to Khardungla by putting him under house arrest, restricting his movement, as well as restricting people from visiting him. The police denied the charges, stating that he had not been given permission to enter Khardung La pass, citing temperatures being unsuitable for the fast, at less than -40°C. They also detained a few of his students supporting him from the HIAL campus. Wangchuk continued to voice his protest and fasting from the HIAL campus.

In March 2024, he started a fast-unto-death to press for his demand for constitutional safeguards for the Union Territory and protection of Ladakh from industrial and mining lobbies. He also began a 21-day Climate Fast hunger strike for giving statehood to Union Territory Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule. Wangchuk’s fast has been supported by various socio-political bodies in Ladakh, including the Kargil Democratic Alliance. Climate activist Sonam Wangchuk ended his fast in Leh because the government gave him assurance to fulfil his demands.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Tamanhttps://authorvaidehi.com
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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