Sonam Wangchuk ends hunger strike today, protest to continue

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Sonam Wangchuk, who has been on a hunger strike since March 6,2024, will end his fast at 5 p.m. today. Now the protest will be carried forward by the women of Ladakh, who will go on a hunger strike for 10 days starting tomorrow.

Jigmat Paljor, coordinator of the Apex body, Leh (ABL), one of the protest organizers, said, “Mr. Wangchuck will end his hunger protest today at 5 p.m. Tomorrow, women from different religious communities will come together and go on a hunger protest for 10 days. On April 7, people from all over Ladakh will march towards the border and from April 8, youth and monks will come together for a hunger protest.”

Mr. Wangchuk has been protesting for the last 21 days and has made several demands to the central government regarding Ladakh. He has demanded statehood for Ladakh and its inclusion in the sixth schedule of the constitution. He has also demanded separate Lok Sabha seats for Leh and Kargil.

He also alleged encroachment of land by China to the north of Ladakh and by industries towards the south.

Mr. Paljor confirmed that they are planning to gather around 10,000  shepherds, farmers, and other local people, and carry forward the march towards the border on   April 7. This will be done to show the ground reality of the area to the public, he said.

Experts say that the locals living in villages are unaware of the environmental hazards Ladakh is facing. Mipham Jigmet, member of the climate activist group Zero Waste Ladakh in Leh, said, “Local people are joining the protest because Sonam Wangchuck is a popular figure in Ladakh. Otherwise, there is not much awareness among people in remote towns and villages. In recent years, tourism has increased in Ladakh, and many people from outside of Ladakh have come and set up their tourism business here.  They do not understand the geography of the place and do not work  accordingly.”

He added that in Ladakh, the government is promoting tourism without keeping in mind the ecology of the area. He said, “In Zanskar, the government has constructed new roads. The problem is that many vehicles passing on one road  disturbs the ecology of the area.”

“In Khardungla, there is a narrow pass for local people to commute, but they have constructed cafes and restaurants on it. Therefore, there are more vehicles moving on the pass now. The government is also planning to build a parking lot in that area, which will turn out to be a major disaster,” Mr. Mipham said.

He added “Government has built homestays in the villages where no waste management system is installed. The government has given certain guidelines for the homestays; there should be western toilets, and bread and butter for breakfast, etc. So now, they are forcing people to build western toilets instead of the dry toilets which are the norm in the area. As a result, more waste is generated in the name of tourism.”

He added that officers in the tourism sector and waste management systems don’t understand the climate and environment of Ladakh at all.

Photo credit- Tsewang Rigzin
Mr. Prakash Raj visited the protest site today and pladeged his support for the cause.

Mr. Paljor said, “Many villages in Ladakh are facing acute water shortage due to melting of glaciers. In many areas, water is scarce even for drinking purposes, because our major source of water is the glaciers.”

Mr. Mipham said that there is no water in the Arzoo village which is situated 30 km from Leh, therefore it is now abandoned by local people. The villages which are about 100 km from the border are also facing water shortage.

Highlighting the impact of climate change in the area he added that snowfall in Ladakh which usually begins in November-December, only began around March this year.

Mr. Paljor said that they have invited members of different political parties to give out proposals for the betterment of Ladakh. “Congress has supported our cause and their members have visited the protest. Aam Admi Party (AAP) has also pledged support for the protest, but no member from Delhi has visited the protest site yet. We have also invited members from Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), but have not got any support yet.”

He said that they will continue to protest till the central government agrees to their demands. “Until there is a proper notice issued or an official meeting is held, we will continue to protest in different ways,” he said.

He also mentioned that although they are getting support from people from all over the country, the mainstream media has been negligent of the issue. “Out of the big media giants, only two have taken a video call interview of Mr. Wangchuck; none of them have visited the protest site yet.”

According to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) report, due to climate change in Ladakh, there has been a decrease in precipitation, thus impacting  the temperature of the place.  Few villages have already been relocated, and land in many villages is left barren. The mountain population is being impacted due to geographical changes.