29 January 2008
Times Internet Limited
New Delhi: Thupstan Chhewang, belonging to the Royals of Leh is a highly respected Ladakhi leader who was once president of Ladakh Congress party. His one member party in Parliament is supporting UPA. He was also the firebrand leader of Ladakh Buddhist Association, which led a phenomenal movement against socio-political discrimination by Srinagar's communal governance in late eighties resulting in the formation of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. His unassuming soft spoken personality exudes confidence and a rare dedication for the cause of his people and the nation. If he has raised an alarm on the Chinese incursions in Ladakh it must be taken seriously. Of late Ladakh has been witnessing a continuous trespassing by Chinese shepherds and soldiers in Chushul area where we fought a famous war of Trishul mountains led by Major Shaitan Singh (who received Param Vir Chakra after his and his brave men's bodies were discovered one year after their martyrdom) and in the vast grass lands near Demchok. It's the point where a nullah defines the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Indus enters India at this point from the Kailas Manasarovar region in western Tibet and it is a region great scintillating natural beauty. The people of Ladakh have been demanding opening of this route to reach Kailas Manasarovar in a shorter and safer way. Chinese are known to enter our region in a clandestine manner. In the initial stage they would do it through innocent passages into our territory using shepherds, soldiers and traders. If caught, they would say, oh nothing to worry we simply went wayward. If not, it continues for years, the intruders would leave their marks, some properties and cattle too. Make some permanent bases. Later these small 'marks' would be used to claim that 'since ages' Chinese have been using that piece of land - see the 'proofs'! We were caught napping during Kargil intrusion. When patriotic Ladakhi shepherds told the Army about Pakistani intrusions initially, it was not taken seriously. In the same way alarms about the latest Chinese intrusion are being taken lightly and in some 'strategic' quarters its being suggested that such talks would hamper the growing trade between the two nations. Sometime back a BJP Member of Parliament from Arunachal, Kiren Rijiju, had created a furore by claiming that Chinese are intruding in the state. He had even mentioned particular spots where the intrusion had taken place. Again the state and the Centre were swift in ridiculing the allegation and as recent as December Defence Minister A.K. Antony told reporters, when asked about reports of alleged incursion of Indian territories and removal of a few forward posts by China, 'I don't want to go into details. As far as Indian territories are concerned nothing has happened,' The fact is that the Chinese have a focussed military presence in this area and that's the reason of their silence over Indian demand to open the route to Manasarovar via Demchok. I had taken up this issue four times during my stint as the member of India-China Eminent Persons' Group formed by the Ministry of External Affairs. Every time we raised the issue, the Chinese side would listen attentively but nothing would come out of it ever. Not even a written acknowledgement. Now a few facts: Out of 2,22,236 sq kms of the J&K state, Jammu has 26,293 sq kms and Ladakh 1,38,942 sq kms. It must be remembered that 78,114 sq kms of the state is under illegal occupation of Pakistan, 37,555 sq kms under illegal occupation of China and 5,180 sq kms have been illegally handed over to China by Pakistan. While Ladakh constitutes 69.60 % of the state's total land area, Kashmir valley, the most turbulent and vocal one is just 11.48 % and Jammu 18.92 %. Within Ladakh, Buddhist majority district Leh has 45,110 sq kms and Shia Muslim majority district Kargil has 13,000 sq kms. While Kargil has shown an extraordinary growth in population of 17.34 % in the years between 1981to 1991, Leh population grew at the rate of just 9.10 %. Even in Leh district the population of Muslims increased from 15.32 % in 1981 to 18.37 % in 1991 (projected). Buddhists fear an assault on their culture and traditions through the conversion of Buddhist girls and a planned effort to outnumber Buddhists through a population aggression. In 1992 an agreement was signed between the Ladakh Muslim Association and Ladakh Buddhist Association, the supreme organization of Ladakh representing Buddhists, at the intervention of Ministry of Home Affairs ensuring that the Buddhists converted to Islam shall be allowed to return to their original faith, but the Muslims never honoured the agreement. The following points were raised by the Buddhist Association in a memorandum to the Central Government - 1. During 1992-99, 24 Buddhist girls from Leh district were converted to Islam and majority of them were taken to Kargil. 2. Twelve villages with hamlets of Buddhists, comprising 651 families (numbering app. 5000 persons) located at 40 to 60 kms from Kargil town were targeted for conversions. Till 2002, 72 boys and girls were converted to Islam as per the survey conducted by the Ladakh Buddhist Association. 3. Muslims of Kargil are not allowing the LBA to repair and reconstruct a 40 year old. Gompa comprising three rooms and at present lying in shambles. 4. Cremation of dead Buddhists is not allowed at Kargil and the body has to be moved at a remote Buddhist area. 5. No Buddhist Sarai is allowed to be constructed at Kargil though there has been a demand for the last 35 years. 6. Six new mosques have been constructed at Leh town during 1989-99 in close vicinity of Buddhist habitations and in a planned manner more than 540 Muslim families have been settled at Leh, majority of them coming from Kargil. 7. Kargil has 20% Buddhist population. Yet (a) only one Buddhist was appointed as patwari out of 24 patwaris, the rest were all Muslims. (b) In 1998, 40 employees for class IV were appointed in education department, out of these only one was Buddhist, that too after his conversion to Islam.