A day after they held a protest at Delhi's Jantar Mantar, groups from Ladakh on Thursday reiterated their demands for statehood and sixth schedule status for the Union Territory, threatening to intensify their agitation if the government does not listen to them.
At a press conference here, environmental activist and educator Sonam Wangchuk said democracy has been compromised in Ladakh and the local people have no say in decision-making.
Speaking on behalf of Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance, an amalgam of social, religious, and political groups from the two districts of Ladakh, Wangchuk stressed on the need to provide safeguards for the environmentally sensitive area, and involve locals in decision-making.
"We wanted to become a Union Territory, but we never imagined it would be without a legislature. There is no participation of people anymore in how the budget allocated to us is spent. The Autonomous Hill Council has also been weakened, and the issue of statehood is of utmost importance to the people of Ladakh," he said.
Sajjad Hussain, an activist from Kargil, said Ladakh is going through a crisis, and urgent attention is needed.
"Ladakh is going through a crisis... When Article 370 was abrogated, the two districts - Leh and Kargil -- had different aspirations. While there were protests in Kargil, it was welcomed in Leh ," he said.
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Hussain said the administration has been left to the Lieutenant Governor and bureaucrats, who are not accountable to the people of Ladakh.
"Unemployment is on the rise, graduates, PhD holders are on roads. When we asked for a separate Public Service Commission government said they had no plans," he said.
"People have been totally disempowered, we have no representation... Earlier we had four MLAs in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, and they had a say in the assembly," he said.
The groups say they will intensify their protest if their demands are not met.
"In a democratic society, protest is our right. There have been several protests in Ladakh over the last two years, we will intensify protests if our demands are not met," Hussain said.
Both Wangchuk and Hussain also said that their voices are being stifled by police action.
"If any student protests in Kargil, police action is initiated. Last year some youths protested on a land-related matter. They were called by the police," he said.
"There is no space left for dissent. There is no accountability," Wangchuk said, adding there is no democracy left in the "whole structure."
"We do not have elected representatives to make decisions. When we had four MLAs in the J&K assembly our voice was heard. Now it seems like we have been put under LG's rule forever," he said.
"If someone writes something on social media, action is taken. Some youths shouted slogans demanding the sixth schedule in a stadium, they were taken to the police station and beaten up," he said.
Ladakh was carved into a Union Territory without legislature when Article 370 and 35A were abrogated, and Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union Territories.
Over the last two years, protests have been held in both Leh and Kargil demanding the protection of the interests of the people of Ladakh.
In January this year, the Union home ministry constituted a high-powered committee headed by Minister of State Nityanand Rai to "ensure the protection of land and employment" for the people of Ladakh.
The two bodies from Leh and Kargil, however, rejected the committee and decided not to attend any meeting conducted under its name, saying its mandate did not mention the issues raised by them.
The protestors are demanding statehood for Ladakh, sixth schedule under Constitution, job reservation, a separate public service commission for Ladakh, and two parliamentary seats for Leh and Kargil.
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