Tsering Samphel, President, Ladakh Buddhist Association
“If justice would not be done to us, the whole northern frontier
“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
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
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
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
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.