Neglected Ladakh: 64 Years Ago!
A much-publicized All Party delegation has just paid a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir.
Of course, Ladakh was not in the program.
A release of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) says that after Srinagar on the first day, the next day the delegation went to Jammu where “the delegation met over 200 persons in about 18 different delegations from various sections of society.”
Addressing media persons in Srinagar, the Home Minister Rajnath Singh remarked that all parties have agreed that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir should improve at the earliest. He also noted that the delegation’s talks with the various sections in J&K have been fruitful.
Various sections minus Ladakhis!
Though an officer of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has now been nominated as the Nodal Officer to address the grievances of people of Jammu and Kashmir, it remains that Ladakh once again has not been mentioned.
The neglect of Ladakh is not new as we shall see.
(Though to be fair, the Modi Sarkar has recently started to work on an ambitious plan to link Leh-Ladakh with railway network. The government has handed over the responsibility of the survey work for Bilaspur-Mandi-Manali-Leh railway line to the Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES). Delhi already released Rs 40 crore out of the total Rs 157 crore allotted for the survey work.)
In April 1952, a letter from Sonam Wangyal, a resident of Leh (Ladakh, Kashmir) ended on the desk of the Prime Minister.
The original had been sent to “the Editor of the Times of India, New Delhi.”
It makes interesting reading.
It is entitled: “Utilisation of Prime Minister’s Funds for Leh”.
Here is the letter:
Of all the areas affected by the tribal raids in Kashmir Zanskar an unaccessible and extremely backward part of Ladakh has probably suffered the most. With the exception of the village Padam which has a 40% Muslim population, the entire area is exclusively inhabited by the Buddhists. When Kargil fell to Pakistan the Muslims of Padam anticipating the entry of an Indian force from Lahoul made it their first business to invite Pakistan troops from Kargil. In this they succeeded and what the Buddhist suffered during the occupation of their land by Pakistan, how their Gumpas [monasteries] were looted and desecrated, their women outraged, their men slaughtered and their houses rifted is common knowledge.
Hundreds of them fled to Kulu and a large percentage of them perished during their fugitive wanderings. Several families were clean wiped out. Many who returned after the recapture of Kargil by Indian troops, found all their property gone.
They were still groaning under the devastating blow of a cruel fate, when another dreadful misfortune followed. By a strange irony of fate, it was the very people who had invited Pakistan troops to Zanskar who became instrumental in opening a new chapter of woes for the poor Buddhists of the unfortunate area.
They now, it appears, pretended to be in danger from the Buddhist majority and demanded police protection. The Government readily acceded to their demand and against all precedent, deputed a police force from Kashmir to maintain law and order in Zanskar.
Probably the authorities were unaware that a permanent police force has never before been posted in Zanskar that the people of this area can be aptly described as two-legged sheep and that the establishment of a police showki was like throwing the sheep to wolves. As was to be expected the police force having absolutely no check on their doings started their game of organized pillage and plunder, terrorizing the people with the display of clanging fetters.
In the Lugnak area every family was forced to pay a blackmail of Rs. 60/- and the already ruined people had to sell their surviving sheep and horses to fulfill the demands of the police. Even decrepit old women with nothing to call their own were not spared.
One poor Lama — Lobzong Chhewaing — had retired into seclusion for spiritual exercise and under the custom in vogue among the Buddhist in Tibet could not leave his retreat for the period of retirement. Not to be disturbed, therefore, he sent Rs.100/- (instead of Rs.60/-) in anticipation of the police visitation. But this did not secure him the immunity he expected. The gang came and the Lama had to pay Rs.400/-. From the villages in this area alone the police collected about Rs. 4,000/-.
The last straw was yet to come. Nature now dealt the finishing blow to complete the work of devastation started by man. The crops failed during the current year and famine conditions supervened. When the scanty quantity of food yielded by the soil was exhausted people began literally to eat grass and green mouths could be seen on all sides. In November no vestige even of grass was left and a large scale exodus to Kulu began. Deaths occurred by the score. About a hundred people are still going from pillar to post in Simla, Jogindranagar, Boroth, Bhakda, Kulu, etc., etc.
Thakur Mangal Chand of Lahoul was approached by these stricken people with their tale of woe. He communicated it to Dr. B.S. Bodh who in return approached Shri Rahula Sankrityayana. The latter again brought the whole affair to the notice of the President of India who was pleased to communicate information about it to the Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
It is reliably learnt that the Prime Minister, Shri Jawaharlal Nehru, was pleased to sanction Rs. 10,000/- (ten thousand) for relief to the distressed people and that this sum has already been remitted to Kashmir. But, how it has been disposed of, nobody knows. This much is certain that not a pie has reached the hands of the sufferers so far. Nor is it likely to reach them if left to the usual red-tape channels.
If this relief is to benefit the real sufferers it must be distributed through H.H. Kushok Bakola who besides being the President of the Tehsil National Conference Leh is also a representative of Ladakh in the Kashmir Constituent Assembly. May we hope that this will be done, that the excesses of the Police will be duly inquired into and that this force will, in any case be withdrawn and replaced, if necessary by an Indian Military Picket.
Nothing was done, though on April 29, 1952, Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, the head Lama of Ladakh wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
On May 3, 1952, Bakula received a communication from the Prime Minister’s Office (from M.O. Mathai, PS to the PM).
About Ladakh ‘associating itself more closely with India’, Nehru informed Bakula that “it is not feasible for a variety of reasons among them being the fact that the whole question of Kashmir is before the United Nations.”
That was 64 years ago.
Many feel that there will always be a reason to ‘privilege’ the Valley, after all they are more noisy.
Here is Nehru’s answer (via his PS):
Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, has received your letter of April 29th. You have based that letter on certain statements made by Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah and others. As a matter of fact, the reporting of that statement was incorrect and has been subsequently rectified.
The Prime Minister appreciates your desire to have close relations with India. Indeed those relations not only of Ladakh but of the whole of the Kashmir State will no doubt become closer in many ways.
Your particular demand for Ladakh to associate itself more closely with India is not feasible for a variety of reasons among them being the fact that the whole question of Kashmir is before the United Nations.
Prime Minister asked me to inform you that there is no reason for any apprehension on your part in regard to Ladakh or Kashmir as a whole.