Ladakh in ferment: Buddhists fear cultural invasion
21 June 2000
The Hindustan Times
Syed Liaquat Ali
Leh: THE FEAR of invasion through settlement and marriage has left the Buddhists of Ladakh unsure about their future. This onslaught, the indigenous population believes, is part of the ''social engineering'' let loose by the Farooq Abdullah regime. ''The State Government''s hidden agenda is to encourage conversions through inter-community marriages. Its ultimate objective is to subjugate the Buddhists,'' asserts Tsering Samphel, president of the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA). Mr Samphel says Buddhist girls are lured by ''Muslim'' boys either from Kashmir or Kargil. While the administration tends to promote such matrimonial alliances, its does not take kindly to Muslim girls marrying Buddhist boys. Little wonder therefore that the LBA, a powerful Buddhist body, is apprehensive about the alleged unabated inf-lux from Muslim-dominated Kargil district and the Kashmir Valley. ''We are worried about the presence of a huge floating population in Leh, which may destroy our (Buddhist) culture and tradition,'' says Mr Samphel. The LBA, however, makes it clear that it has no problem with the local Muslims who have close cultural and linguistic affinity with them. The Ladakhi Muslims have voiced their concern over inter-community marriages that disturb communal harmony in the region. In fact, the Buddhist and Muslim bodies in Leh have signed an agreement to discourage such marriages. The agreement says that both communities shall try to undo such marriages in order to restore the girls and the boys to their respective faiths. ''Our co-existence dates back to many centuries. The problem crops up when Muslims from outside come here and lure Buddhist girls,'' says Rahamatulla Jarkar, an ex-serviceman who runs a shop in Leh''s main market. Experts say that in Ladakh the number of Buddhist girls is on the rise compared to boys - a fact that Mr Samphel confirms. They have cited two factors that drive the Buddhist girls to marry outside their community; a sizeable chunk of Buddhist men have become monks while several hundred join Ladakh Scouts every year. The alleged conversion of a girl, Yethok Lhamo, to Islam caused a furore in the region early this month, followed by massive protests from the Buddhist leadership. The LBA has gone to the extent of seeking the State Administration''s help for her ''restoration'' to Buddhism.