Kavita Suri

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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir

Milchar

Symbol of Unity

 
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Exclusive Interview: 

Tsering Samphel, President, Ladakh Buddhist Association

“If justice would not be done to us, the whole northern frontier will go…” 
“If they could not tolerate Lord Buddha’s statues in Bamiyan, how can they tolerate us alive here?” 

Ladakhis have been fighting the Kashmir domination and exploitation for decades now. Their consistent demand has been separation from Jammu and Kashmir state and granting Union Territory status to entire Ladakh region. As one of the most influential Buddhist leaders of Ladakh, Tsering Samphel, president, Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) , a powerful organisation of Ladakhi Buddhists , is one of the most vocal voices which have been raising this demand. In mid-eighties, he had struggled hard and led an agitation to get Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) for this hilly region. This former MLA is now waging a war for the rights of the Ladakhis which he says have been denied to them. Tsering Samphel speaks to KAVITA SURI who is in Leh these days on various issues including as to why Ladakh should get UT status. Excerpts…… 

Q: Voices of dissent from Ladakh are growing louder day by day.What are the reasons? 
A: To know about Ladakh, you first need to understand its history. Sheikh Abdullah’s government divided Ladakh on communal basis in 1979 by creating two separate districts of Leh and Kargil with Buddhist and Muslim majorities respectively. They subsequently encouraged communalisation of Ladakh’s political, social and cultural life. Such policies have severely challenged our age-old communal harmony and secular credentials, therefore our major struggle in the post-independence period has been to have an administration in Ladakh to be controlled directly by the central government . And these voices of dissent are not new. Infact, the first organised effort of Ladakhis against Kashmiri domination and exploitation was started way back in 1964 only. 

Q: But why the Union Territory demand? 
A: Dr Farooq Abdullah-led National Conference government is pleading for greater autonomy for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. But as you have to give a solution to Kashmir problem, Ladakhis will never follow Kashmiri people’s line. Time has come to find a solution. Kashmiris have always denounced Ladakhis. Islam followers have not tolerated us. See the case of Kashmiri Pandits. How they were hounded out of their houses where they were living for the past so many centuries! We Buddhists in Ladakh also feel quite insecure and threatened. Under these circumstances, we are left with no choice but to reiterate our longstanding demand for granting union territory status to Ladakh which would guarantee us an administrative set-up to run our own affairs and safeguard our interests. Time has come to separate Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir and give a UT status to the region. We are not demanding stars to be plucked from the sky but just a solution for our own solace, for our own satisfaction. 

Q: But didn’t you get Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) on the lines of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill council few years back “to run your own affairs and safeguard your own interests? 
A: Yes, we did get LAHDC as a result of a forceful agitation which was started by the LBA in 1989.The LBA had always been demanding regional autonomy but keeping in view national interests, a tripartite agreement was reached by the state government, the Centre  government and the LBA on 29 October 1989. However, it is quite unfortunate that the state government never actually allowed any quantum of autonomy to be exercised by the democratically elected LAHDC and also starved it of  funds. They (state government) want to crush Hill Council which is part of their deep-rooted conspiracy. It is ironical that the same government is now pleading for greater autonomy for the state. 

Q: But many feel it would have dangerous repercussions. 
A: We pity those who think that it would be a partition like that of India and Pakistan. It is reorganisation of the state. Where is the problem with the reorganisation? You divided North-East into seven states; you carved three states out of Punjab. Our demand should also be met. There is a big lobby in India which feels that there would be a better governance if there are smaller states in India. We are also part of it.  

Q: Which lobby is it? 
A: It is National Forum for Smaller States(NFSS). Many MPs, intellectuals, thinkers etc are its members. 

Q: But Kargil people do not want Union Territory. 
A: Well, Kargil was formed in 1979 on communal lines. They have their own motives. Is it necessary that we should be forced to listen to them? 

Q: But Kargil’s powerful Shia leader Asgar Karbalai has said that they would fight the UT demand tooth and nail. 
A: I pity them. Asgar Karbalai is a member of the All Party Hurriyat Conference.Even few people from Leh are also with the APHC. We know them . APHC wants Azadi - Nizam-e-Mustafa. But we do not want that. We are Indians and want to be with India only. But I gurantee you, if Kargil residents will have choose between Kashmir or Ladakh, they will definitely opt for Ladakh. You should understand. They are helpless  at present. Their accessibility, economy, communications etc is totally dependent on Zojila(Kashmir) unlike us who are totally independent. Whereas we have better communications. But they are helpless. 

Q: Can you elaborate the reasons which led you to demand a UT status for Ladakh region? 
A: Well,there are 3600 Jammu and Kashmir Civil Secretriate cadre employees in the state and there is not a single Ladakhi. There are 11-12 Corporations with 21,000 employees and there are just 2 Ladakhis. In Kashmir administrative services(KAS), there is a State quota for IAS induction. Surprisingly, for the past 53 years, only five Ladakhis  have been inducted but all of these five are Ladakhi Muslims and not Buddhists. There is against a big discrimination against Buddhists. The most recent example is of the KAS exams in which 23 Buddhists and 2 Muslims from Ladakh cleared the preliminary and Main exams . In the final selection list which was out recently, the two Muslims were selected  while the 23 Buddhist were left out. Were they so dull? Hadn’t they cleared the exams”? Had all of them  not reached the set standards for the interviews?  In technical seats, Leh and Kargil were granted 4 seats each. But now just one student from Leh is being given admission while  7 are taken from Kargil whereas entire Ladakh region has 87 per cent Buddhists and 13 per cent Muslims. Is it what you call  justice? There are so many such questions which have forced us to take this decision. Are we still a colony – earlier of Britishers now of Kashmiris? We got rid of Britishers in 1947 but now we are tolerating Kashmiri rulers who have always discriminated us for the past 53 long years. 

Q: Supposedly Kargilis do not go with you, what would be your next course of action? 
A: If Kargil does not want UT status, then merge Buddhist dominated areas of Zanskar region with Leh. Zanskar (presently with Kargil) which has 98 per cent Buddhist population and 12 villages of Mulbek are with Leh district border. We demand that they should go with Leh. 

Q: Can’t there be some other possible solutions other than the UT demand? 
A: How can there be? If those people who could not tolerate Lord Buddha’s statues in Afghanistan(refers to Bamiyan), how can they tolerate us alive in Jammu and Kashmir. Besides, you should also understand that Ladakh constitutes 69.6 % of the total J&K territory with a distinct geo-political and geo-cultural identity of its own. The aspirations of the people of Ladakh and their national outlook are different from those of the people of Kashmir. Leaders of Kashmir valley can never be leaders of our people and our assimilation with the people of the valley is next to impossible. The need of the hour is, therefore, to tackle all the problems relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh in totality. Any attempt at handling the Kashmir issue in isolation by ignoring the problems of Jammu and Ladakh will not only be shortsighted but also counterproductive.      

Therefore, a realistic solution to the problems in J&K can only be found if the state is reorganised on linguistic and ethnic basis as was done earlier in the case of other states. 

Q: Displaced Kashmiri Pandits organisation Panun Kashmir which demands separate homeland carved within Kashmir valley, a powerful students’ body Jammu Joint Students Federations (JJSF) which has been demanding separate statehood for Jammu and your LBA had joined hands together and formed a new front - PIPU (Peoples Initiative for Peace and Unity).What are your activities? 
A: We take support from them and we support their cause also. Things have become more clear to us due to KPs only. See how they had to fled the land where they were born. We should not also face a similiar situation. So the PIPU is holding seminars in support of our demands and mobilising public opinion at various places all over the country. We had  gone to Bangalore, Delhi, Jammu etc.and had held many seminars. 

Q: That means you favour separate statehood demand for Jammu region also?
A: See, I even told K.C.Pant when he had come here few months back that these two regions of Jammu and Ladakh have already suffered enough for the historical follies of our leaders in clubbing together three disparate and altogether different set of people with different outlooks, asspirations , hopes and incompatible nature. In the given circumstances, a permanent and lasting solution lies in reorganising the state into three separate unit- separate statehoold Jammu and Kashmir regions and a UT with legislature for Ladakh. 

Q: Do you think that Indian leadership is seized of your problems? 
A: It will take time. How would you keep us with you forcibly against our will? Well, you cannot. Even though we are a threatened ethnic group, I tell you, if justice is not done to us, this whole northern frontier will go. I warn of that. 

Q: Can you be more specific about what you just said that if the GoI does not listen to you, the entire Northern Frontier would go? 
A: Listen, Kashmir militancy is not only part of Pakistan’s ‘azadi” campaign in Jammu and Kashmir. It is a part of Islamisation movement..They are eying northern frontiers so that they can concentrate in China and other Asian countries and largely towards India.   

So that’s why I said if there is a hostile population on frontiers, you are not safe. The Government of India should understand that. We can say with guarantee that we were and we are the guardians of your Northern frontiers. 

Q: Ladakh Buddhist Association has also hired top legal experts in the country and is seeking opinion on the Instrument of Accession that the then Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh signed with the Indian government acceeding the state to Indian Union in October 1947.What are you trying to aim at? 
A: Before partition, the entire state was known as Jammu, Kashmir and Tibet High - Tibet High being the entire Ladakh region. But the Instrument of Accession says that the Maharaja has acceded the state of Jammu and Kashmir to Indian Union. The word ‘Little Tibet”- that is- Ladakh and its people have not been included in that. We are getting it studied and want to ascertain whether we were part of the Accession or not. If not, then we have to re-devise our strategies. 

Q: Lastly, how do you see the future of this UT agitation of yours? 
A:I can just say that it would be in the national interest for the Indian government to grant us the UT status as soon as possible. 

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