With Article 370, Ladakh was treated like Kashmir's colony: We were forced to use Urdu. Our welfare became a joke
With Ladakh finally declared a union territory, its people are ecstatic. We Ladakhis always felt closer to Delhi. Now we will get development and enjoy peace without someone else's hassles.
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Everybody in Ladakh is truly happy with the hilly area being declared as a union territory — it’s been 30 years of active demand and 10 years even before that, in other forms, but our people always wanted to be integrated with the centre rather than indirectly through Kashmir.
It’s finally the fulfillment of this dream — and people can’t believe that what they wanted has come true. They have struggled so much and several people have died for this demand.
There were so many things which kept the people of Ladakh away from Kashmir.
We are a remote region of a remote state that was a kingdom in itself for thousands of years — we simply became a tiny district for a state like Kashmir.
Our area had no say in how things were run.
Now it was four, earlier there were only two Assembly members from the Ladakh region in some 80 or so member-strong Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. There was no voice for us in what was done or how things were done. It was so far away too — there was a road which took two days to reach the state capital. And all decisions were taken from there, so you can understand the immense difficulties the ordinary people of Ladakh faced.
Life was made further difficult because Kashmir frequently being in turmoil meant Ladakh was unnecessarily paralysed, for reasons that did not affect it in any way. Anything which happened in Srinagar though meant Ladakh schools and offices would be closed, things didn’t move, and for no reason of ours.
Things were administered for the rest of the state — not for the people of Ladakh. This hill region is huge — larger than both Kashmir and Jammu combined together. But we were given no special attention despite that. Ladakh is a cold mountain desert, unlike Jammu and Kashmir, which are alpine and tropical. But there was absolutely no attention paid to how things should be done here.
Spot the Ladakhis: No voice at all. (Photo: IANS)
The government would make buildings like they were made in Kashmir. Schools would have a language like Urdu — which no one spoke here. Even the courts and police perforce had to function in the Urdu language. But it’s a language which Ladakhis are just not familiar with. So, it was a like a tiny colony of a state — now all that will change.
Ladakh was treated like one of the 14 districts and not as a different zone which has its own history, culture and a climate which is very different. Things didn’t work because everything is so spread out here, hills are huge and extreme. Funds given to Ladakh were never enough. The policies were never relevant and development became a bitter joke. They drew up things for Ladakh in Kashmir which did not make any sense.
The type of development would come from officers who would arrive prepared for the Valley or for Jammu. They would come for a two-year tenure and they just didn't understand Ladakh. The first year would go in trying to understand the place and the second in preparing to leave it. So, it would be misplaced, half-hearted development.
Now, with Ladakh being declared as a UT, things will be designed specifically for the region and people. There are two hill towns in Ladakh, a hill council will be there in the UT and they will address issues that are local. I hope the funding will also improve. Things should be designed specially and tailor-made for Ladakh. I particularly hope the language to textbook content, theme and philosophy of education will be in harmony with the people of Ladakh.
People in Ladakh have always felt themselves very much a part of India. Now, it will be much easier.
New Delhi was always closer to Ladakh than Srinagar.
To reach Srinagar, there is a long and treacherous road and just two flights a week. It is a state capital which doesn’t even have daily flights. In contrast, between New Delhi and Ladakh, there are 12 flights a day.
You cannot imagine the meaning of this to a people who live very far away. But who want to be close.
(As Told To: Rohit E David)