Bhoti or Ladakhi: What should we call our language?

The nomenclature ‘Bhoti’ is a Sanskrit term that is said to have been coined by a group of Tibetology scholars around five decades back with reference to the widely spread Himalayan cultural, liturgical and literary language. However, it actually denoted the script invented by Thonmi Sambhota—the able minister of King Songtsan Sgampo of Tibet—who adapted it from the Brahmi script at Nalanda (Indian subcontinent) in the Seventh Century. The main reason for calling the Himalayan language ‘Bhoti’ was to increase the importance of the proposal for recognition of the language under the Eight Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Scholars in Ladakh, however, are split on this idea. One group claims that ‘Bhoti’ refers to Classical Tibetan as the religious and cultural language of the people of the Himalayan region stretching from Baltistan to Arunachal Pradesh. They support the use of ‘Bhoti’ for literary purposes and constitutional recognition. Others champion the use of ‘Ladakhi’ for recognition. They argue that it is a language that belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language group of the Sino-Tibetan language family that is spoken across the Himalayan region with regional variations and names. The language group includes Balti in Baltistan, Ladakhi in Ladakh, Lahuli in Lahul and Spiti, Bhutia in Sikkim, and Tamang and Lepcha in Arunachal Pradesh.

On the one hand, we have scholars such as Assistant Professor at Central University of Jharkhand, Ranchi, Dr. Konchok Tashi who terms this bond as “broader identity formation” that links diverse communities of the Himalayan region though none of them formally refer to their language as ‘Bhoti’. On the other hand, we have scholars such as Former Director of Culture Academy, Leh, Nawang Tsering Shakspo who disagrees with the use of the term ‘Bhoti’. He argues that a language by the name of ‘Bhoti’ does not exist and it is best to push for inclusion of the language spoken in Ladakh as ‘Ladakhi’.

He explained, “I had approached Sahitya Akademi—India’s National Academy of Letters—for recognition of Ladakhi as an Indian language in 1980. My submission was received favourably. The General Council of Sahitya Akademi had agreed in principle to grant recognition to Ladakhi along with Awadhi as Indian languages subject to availability of funds from the government. If all lovers of Ladakhi language, (or Bhoti for the matter) had supported my submission at the time and desisted from championing Bhoti, Ladakhi would have been recognised as an Indian language and many Ladakhi writers and scholars would have received recognition through prestigious Sahitya Akademi awards.”

With regard to the effort to gain recognition under ‘Bhoti’, Nawang Tsering Shakspo explained, “In the meantime, the Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association, New Delhi, was promoting the Bhoti issue with vigour. Its leader, Lama Chosphel Zodpa was appointed as a Member of the Minorities Commission and he managed to push this issue to a fairly high level. He received support from several prominent leaders, including Union Ministers such as the late George Fernandes. The Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), Mysore was thus obliged to send a team of linguists to conduct a socio-linguistic survey of Bhoti language across the Himalayan region. The team was led by Deputy Director of CIIL, Mysore, Prof. Rajesh Sachdeva. They started their survey from Ladakh in September 2008 and visited other Himalayan states through to March 2009. The survey team visited many households in Leh to check how many people called their mother tongue ‘Bhoti’. They were amazed to find that a negligible number of Ladakhis used the term ‘Bhoti’. On the final day of the survey in Ladakh, Prof. Rajesh Sachdeva convened a meeting of Ladakhi writers and scholars to gather feedback on their work.”

He explained that the meeting opened with a welcome speech by the then Director of Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh, Dr Nawang Tsering. He narrated, “In his speech, the director said that according to language surveys conducted in India prior to 1900, there were around 10,000 people who spoke Ladakhi and by 1980, this number had increased to 110,000. He then added that ‘Your demand is to call this language Bhoti and wipe out the name of Ladakhi. If you succeed, then in the near future, there will be a question about the fate of the Ladakhi speakers recorded earlier!”

I had assumed that Sikkimese Bhutias would support the demand for recognition of Bhoti as the two names are somewhat similar. However, in a letter to Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association, New Delhi, which was signed by the Special Secretary, Home Department, Government of Sikkim and dated 22 January, 2007, they wrote, “Bhutia language should be considered for inclusion in the Eight schedule of the Constitution”.

Similarly, Ladakhi language was formally recognised as ‘Ladakhi’ in the Sixth Schedule of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir through the 1951 rule adopted by the first State Re-organisation Commission to give state-level recognition for languages spoken by 70% of a district’s population.

In its issue of 6 March, 2008, Outlook Magazine carried the following report, “The ruling Sikkim Democratic Front government today demanded the inclusion of Bhutia (Bhooti), Lepcha and Limboo languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. A resolution seeking the inclusion of the languages in the Eighth Schedule was moved by the Human Resources Development Minister, Garjaman Gurung in the Assembly. The resolution was adopted unanimously.” It goes on to mention that the state government sought to justify the resolution on the grounds that the three indigenous languages are widely spoken and taught in schools and colleges across the state, and are recognised as official languages of the state. The article added that the state government intended to send a proposal to Government of India for recognition of these languages.

Thus, three major so-called Bhoti speaking ethnic groups in the North-eastern Himalayan region have already proposed that their languages be recognised as their own names. This is backed by a resolution passed by the Sikkim Legislative Assembly. Despite this, we in Ladakh seem to be imposing the name ‘Bhoti’ on all the ethnic groups in the Northeast. How will this benefit Ladakh?

Bhoti might provide an overarching framework to bring together the Indian Himalayan regions. However, if Ladakhi is recognised under ‘Bhoti’ it will lead to several challenges. Since ‘Bhoti’ refers to the cultural, religious and literary language of Classical Tibetan, most Ladakhis hesitate to use it to refer to their language. Furthermore, Ladakh’s Muslim community would have reservations about the language if it is called ‘Bhoti’ as it seems associated with Buddhism. On the other hand, the name ‘Ladakhi’ provides self-identification and a sense of proprietorship over the language that we speak in Ladakh.

The Sikkimese government has already given recognition to ‘Bhutia’ and it is taught in its educational institutions. Bhutia scholar, Bhaichung Tshering Bhutia has written, “It was in 1977 that Government of Sikkim recognised Bhutia language as one of the official languages and introduced it in schools of Sikkim. In 1987, the CBSE recognised Bhutia language at the Secondary and Senior Secondary levels. After that the North Bengal University recognised Bhutia language as one of the major Indian languages in the colleges of Sikkim from the academic session 2000-2001. In 2008, it was introduced as an elective subject in colleges across Sikkim under Sikkim Central University.” In 2016, it also introduced a master’s course in Bhutia.

It addition to these two schools of thoughts, there are some scholars in Ladakh who advocate for use of the term ‘Tibetan’ for Ladakhi. If this is accepted, it would create new political challenges and have literary implications. Tibetan language has already been granted affiliation by CBSE as ‘Tibetan’ and it will cause confusion if the language we speak is recognised under the same name.

In 2023, Ladakh would have an estimated 300,000 Ladakhi speakers along with its own TV and radio channels that broadcast in Ladakhi. Likewise, Ladakh also has had several periodicals such as Ladags Phonya, Ladakh Sargyur, Ladags Melong, Ladakh Studies, and Reach Ladakh Bulletin. Over the years, people in Ladakh have produced hundreds of feature films and song albums in Ladakhi. Similarly, over 300 books in Ladakhi have been published by the J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.

Having considered all these arguments, I support the use of the term ‘Ladakhi’ to describe our language in the proposal for recognition under the Eight Schedule of the Indian Constitution. I doubt any other name will help keep our ethnic group and language identity intact in the future.

By Khanpo K. Sherab

Khanpo K. Sherab is Research OfficeratSongtsen Library, Center for Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, Dehradoon.

Save our boys!

I never really considered the question of our boys earlier as like everyone else, I was in the Beti padao  beti bachao mode! This changed when I was looking at the list of doctors selected for government jobs: There were more Ladakhi girls than boys on it. This got me thinking. Most offices in Leh seem to be dominated by women. Generally, the few males present perform lower-level jobs like say a security guard or a driver. While I respect all jobs, it does make you wonder about our boys!

I decided to do a headcount in the two offices to which I have easy access: SNM Hospital, Leh and Sub District Hospital, Nubra. I found that a majority of the staff are women. There were 285 females and 70 males in the staff at SNM, while the number of doctors is equal at 25 each. In SDH, Nubra, we have 62 females and 28 males in the staff, and four of the seven doctors are female. In addition, three other lady-doctors look after other parts of Nubra in Panamik, Turtuk, and Bogdang.

So where are all the men? This question sounds logical in a district headed by two women officers. The Deputy Commissioner and the SSP are both successful lady officers. In January, a Ladakhi girl lead India’s first daredevil biker’s group at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi. The Indian women’s ice hockey team, which is made up of Ladakhis, has started creating waves at different levels. The sex ratio in India is mostly skewed in favour of males and even in Ladakh the number of males is slightly higher than females.

Girls are taught to be independent from an early age. They are expected to help in the kitchen and with household chores, while boys are excluded from these ‘un-manly’ tasks. In most societies, girls are expected to stay indoors, while boys are allowed to roam about! Girls in Ladakh grow up in an insecure environment, which seems to work in their favour. Parents advise them to study even as they pamper the boys. Girls are told from an early age that she will leave the parents’ house and all that she will get is a perak, while her brother will live in the family house!

In Ladakh, many people own hotels and guest houses, and boys are expected to run the family business if he doesn’t get a job. The girl is expected to study well and move to her husband’s home after marriage. So the boys grow up with back up plans in the tourist industry, the army, and the family business. For girls, their plan A has to work! This sense of exclusion seems to be working in favour of our girls as they have to fight various odds and stay focused. They grow up to become confident and self-reliant young ladies. And when they go outside Ladakh to study or work, they go as independent individuals who can sustain and manage themselves well. The boys, on the other hand, become proud after learning to cook instant noodles!

With access to work in the tourism sector and with the army, boys become accustomed to ‘easy money’ from an early age. Although many of them do become independent and mature adults, many become addicted to drugs, alcohol and sex. In many cases, financial independence makes them vulnerable to addictive use of gadgets and consumption of pornography from an early age. They in turn cause harm to others in their peer group.

So where are our men? Most Ladakhi men are successful businessmen, politicians, hoteliers, entrepreneurs, and soldiers. Yet, many others are plagued by bankruptcy, alcoholism, substance addiction, and hooliganism and are considered to be threats to society. More recently, we have started hearing of various crimes being committed by Ladakhis, which we would blame on outsiders earlier. Most of these crimes are being committed by Ladakhi boys who are unemployed or doing petty jobs. We urgently need to help our boys. Our girls seem to be on the right track! We need to ensure that our boys grow up to become independent and self-reliant individuals. We need to ensure that they follow the lead of our girls to complete their studies. Parents must always treat their children equally and never discriminate between them. We must take our sons to the kitchen and have them help in preparing food and cleaning dishes. They must be taught to clean their room, wash dishes, and clothes. I say, “Save the boy child, the girls are shining. Beta bachao, beta padao!”

Editor’s note: This article was originally written and published in 2018

By Dr. Spalchen Gonbo

Dr. Spalchen Gonbo is a Paediatrician based in Leh.

The arrogant Ladakhi: Myth or reality?

Tourism has emerged as the backbone of Ladakh’s economy over the last few decades. Hoteliers, guest-house owners, shopkeepers, antique-dealers, pony-men, guides, taxi drivers and a significant section of society depend on tourism for their livelihood. There has been a dramatic growth in tourism over the last decade and a half. This is reflected in the mushrooming of hotels and guest houses and an increase in the number of commercial vehicles. This has made tourism in Ladakh a fairly tough and competitive business sector.

In 2022, more than 500,000 tourists visited Ladakh, which marks the highest number of visitors in a year so far. However, the number of tourists has fallen to less than half that number, and as summer winds down the tourist season is also about to end. As a result of this downturn, many hotels have closed early this year and many hoteliers have discharged their staff members or limited the number of hotel staff. Initially, people solely blamed the cancellation of Go Air flights and the resulting increase in airfares to Leh for the downturn. However, even after airfares decreased the number of tourists in Ladakh remained low. This resulted in anxiety among people in the tourism sector. Many people started arguing that Ladakh is not a sustainable tourism destination. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that there are many factors that have caused the downturn in tourism. We need to identify these reasons, analyse them and introspect over them.

Most visitors perceive Ladakh primarily as a tourist destination. The dominant perception is that Ladakh is an expensive destination, especially in terms of transportation. I have heard people comment that for the amount of money required to visit Ladakh one can travel to an international destination such as Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok.

Many people have enjoyable holidays in Ladakh but there are many others who have had bad experiences while travelling in the region. This does not mean that the people in the tourism sector are bad. In fact, most people are polite, honest, and sensible people. I remember an incident that took place in 2021. A Ladakhi taxi driver found a mobile phone somewhere in Changthang. He along with a friend traced the owner of the phone to his address in Mumbai. The phone contained important personal data and information. The owner of the phone was happy and relieved to get the phone back. He offered the taxi driver Rs 50,000 for his efforts and honesty. However, the latter refused and finally accepted Rs 10,000 as the person insisted on giving him some sort of reward.

However, the misbehaviour, greed, arrogance and conduct of a few people in Ladakh gives the whole region a bad name. For instance, the number of tourists doubled in 2022 as compared to preceding years and many people expected this to remain stable for the next few years. Some decided to take advantage of this. I have seen some hoteliers who increased the cost of food at their restaurants, some even doubling it over existing rates, without necessarily improving the menu. Travel agencies who use these hotels for clients were confused and irritated by this sudden increase in rates.

I have also heard reports that some proprietors at Pangong-tso would pretend that their tents were fully occupied even for clients who had pre-booked tents through their agency. It is difficult to sleep in the open at an altitude of 12,000 feet above mean sea level. These tented accommodations are generally priced at Rs 5,000 per night. However, these unscrupulous proprietors would claim they were full to push the price up and the tourists were desperate enough to pay Rs 10,000 a night for a tent. The clients complained to the agency on their return and the agency in turn cancelled future night stay at these establishments at Pangong-tso. Thus, these proprietors had to pay a high price for their greed and dishonesty.

Similarly, many taxi drivers removed the luggage carrier from their vehicles to reduce its loading capacity. In addition, they would only take four passengers even though the administration had permitted them to ferry six passengers at a time. In addition, many drivers were reluctant to pay the customary commission given to hoteliers. Furthermore, many taxi drivers are hesitant to take clients for local sightseeing around Leh town as they earn more for trips to Nubra and Pangong-tso. Consequently, those who do agree for local sightseeing trips have started charging more than the prescribed rate.

I have heard of an incident where a taxi driver charged a couple INR 2,000 for the journey from Leh airport to their hotel located 4 km away. He took them to their hotel through a roundabout route. The couple later discovered that the trip should have cost them Rs 500. I have also heard some hotel owners speak about how some drivers complain that their clients take “too many photographs” on the way and waste their time. There was also one incident where a driver insisted on smoking cigarettes in the vehicle in the presence of his passengers.

Such experiences create a very bad impression of Ladakh and its people. Most successful businesspersons would agree that honesty, uprightness and mutual trust are prerequisites for success. This is also reflected in popular culture with the fable that warns us against killing the ‘goose that lays golden eggs’. The fable talks about a greedy person killing the goose to collect all the golden eggs at one go to become wealthy in an instant. The fable ends in certain doom for such a greedy person. We must pay heed to the wisdom of this fable.

Thus, one should resist any temptation to fleece tourists. In the long term, this will certainly ruin tourism as a whole. In addition, it will also have adverse impacts on society. Thus, exorbitant airfares may have contributed to the downturn in tourism but it is imperative that we also reflect on our own weaknesses and shortcomings. Self-reflection and constructive criticism are important qualities for long-term success.

Prior to independence, Ladakh was open for tourism and in the summers, a limited number of tourists, around 200-300, would visit the region. They would stay in the region for longer periods than tourists nowadays and later write about their experiences. There are hundreds of travelogues written by these travellers through the 19th and early 20th Centuries, which provide us with a wealth of insights into Ladakh in that period and the experiences of these travellers.These travelogues invariably praise Ladakhis for their honesty, simplicity and truthfulness. These writers mentioned that despite material poverty, pony-men, porters, cooks etc. were content and did not try to extort more money from travellers.

As mentioned earlier, Ladakh is already an expensive destination with respect to transportation and stay. Greed and opportunism makes some people make it even more expensive by unilaterally increasing their rates for taxi and stay. This causes unnecessary unpleasantness and harms Ladakh. It is thus not surprising when we hear tourists speaking about ‘arrogant’ people they encounter during their trip. For instance, I remember a Ladakhi student telling me about someone once asking them about their native place. When the student replied, “Ladakh”, the person replied curtly, “They looted us!” Furthermore, there are several videos online about people sharing their negative experiences in Ladakh. I remember one where a man is pointing towards a barren mountain and telling viewers that there is nothing to see in Ladakh. He told his viewers not to waste their time and money by visiting Ladakh. On seeing the video, my first reaction was that this man must have suffered some bad experiences in Ladakh and the video was his way of indirectly venting his frustration.

Unfortunately, the problem is not confined to the relationship between tourists and tourism-related personnel. There are many problems within the tourism sector too. Hoteliers report that some travel agents are notorious for not paying their dues to the hotels they use. I have heard hoteliers joke that it is easier to run a hotel than to recover money from some travel agents! Many travel agencies do not pay their dues in time even after repeated demands. Some do not pay at all and as a result lose credibility with the hotels who then refuse to provide them with rooms. Similarly, there was high demand for taxis in 2022 and there are some reports of travel agents cheating taxi drivers, especially non-Ladakhi drivers who were roped in to meet the demand. Such people are a menace to society and they give Ladakh a bad name.

I have also heard local shopkeepers and vegetable vendors complain that some hoteliers refuse to pay them on time for various essential commodities and vegetables purchased from them on credit. One vegetable vendor spoke about a specific hotelier who had outstanding dues of over INR 10 lakh (INR 1 million) and was showing no signs of clearing any of it!

Thus, when people argue that tourism in Ladakh is not sustainable I cannot help but think of such incidents that make it even more unsustainable. We must not forget that economic cycles are temporary while a bad business culture can cause permanent damage. I think good conduct can go a long way in making tourism more sustainable. In this regard, social leaders, business people, community leaders, politicians, media-persons and members of civil society must come forward to help reflect, identify such challenges and instil better practices in our everyday lives.

Editor’s note: We have withheld the identity of the writer on request.

The neglect of existing sports facilities

There is growing concern in Ladakh about various issues especially in terms of mental health, unemployment, substance abuse and rapid social, political and economic changes. In this regard, sports and recreation are important activities that encourage healthy lifestyles for everyone, especially the youth.
The lack of sports infrastructure in Ladakh has been a major impediment that has prevented people from pursuing careers in sports. It has also undermined efforts to promote active healthy lifestyles. Thankfully, sports and recreation infrastructure in Ladakh have been improving over the last few decades though there is a lot of scope for improvement. For instance, people in Ladakh are still forced to use frozen water bodies to practice ice hockey and ice skating, play football on uneven ground, use home-made equipment for archery etc. At the same time, there have been several commendable efforts such as Ladakh School Olympics to promote sports and active lifestyles amongst the people of Ladakh, especially children and youth.
The Indoor Stadium near Polo ground in Leh is one of the oldest sports facilities and is meant for badminton, table tennis, basketball, archery and volleyball. I have observed that Indoor Stadium, Leh attracts people from every section of society including professionals, women, youth, and children who use this facility to pursue various sports and a healthy lifestyle. In this regard, it is a unique space in Leh town.
Unfortunately, Indoor Stadium, Leh has been used as a multipurpose hall for a range of activities over the years, including exhibitions, political meetings, election strong rooms, and as a COVID-19 sample collection centre. This undermines and disrupts its use for sport activities. Over the last few months, this facility is being used as a storage facility. Heavy equipment and boxes have been crammed into the facility. As a result, only one badminton court is currently useable and there is no space for anything else. This deprives people of the opportunity to pursue active lifestyles and the use of this facility for its intended purpose.
I tried to reach various officials to find out why this facility was being used as a storage facility, when it would be cleared, and why there is no clear policy for the management and maintenance of such precious infrastructure for its intended purpose. Unfortunately, they remained noncommittal in their responses.
There are frequent announcements about new projects including sport-related infrastructure since Ladakh became a Union Territory in 2019. Perhaps it would make more sense to focus on improving and maintaining existing facilities before creating new ones.

By Rigzin Wangmo Lachic

Rigzin Wangmo Lachic is an entrepreneur and badminton player based in Leh

Dialogues in a democracy

Ideally, democracy is a system in which all sections of society have a voice in governance. There will be differences of opinions and interests, which must be resolved through dialogues. This helps develop consensus on various issues while still allowing for differences of opinions as well as dissent. Media has an important role to play in this process.

The main pillars of democracy are legislature (elected representatives), executive (administrative structure), and judiciary (court of law). Media is regarded as the fourth pillar. It works in tandem with the other pillars while also serving as a check on them. Media is supposed to ask questions, increase awareness, expose shortcomings, celebrate achievements, enable dialogues etc. This includes print media, multimedia, radio, and new media (internet-based platforms).

What is the \role of traditional media with the advent of social media? I would argue that social media is a powerful tool that connects people and facilitates the flow of information at an unprecedented pace and scale. Its content is generated by individualised sources and is largely un-regulated though countries have started implementing regulations. In contrast, traditional media is an institution that is regulated by legal and ethical codes. In traditional media, trained professionals generate content and are expected to be objective and impartial.

Social media is akin to a virtual loudspeaker to broadcast individual views in cyberspace with real impacts on the world. In contrast, traditional media is a synergy of different interests that work together to generate potentially useful content. As mentioned earlier, media facilitates dialogues, poses questions and provides a platform to allow different interest groups to voice their views. In many cases, one has to crosscheck responses and claims to hold people to account.

There is a global trend of elected representatives using social media to voice their views. A good example of this trend is former American President, Donald Trump. He also illustrates the pitfalls of the overt reliance on social media without engaging in structured dialogues through traditional media, which remain an important part of the democratic process. There is a spectrum of political leanings in media too. However, unlike social media, media organisations have a legal obligation to be objective and impartial in their content.

Thus, while media-persons may express their opinions, it is not for media organisations to pass judgement—that is the job of the judiciary. Similarly, it is not for media organisations to develop policy though it can provide a dialogue around these processes, provide critical feedback etc.—policymaking is the job of the legislature. Lastly, media organisations can point out shortcomings in administrative processes but cannot provide those services, which is the role of the executive. Media plays the same role in civil society too, where it cannot replace other institutions but needs to work with them to facilitate constructive dialogues. The absence of such dialogues is a worrying sign for democratic systems especially when many people are choosing to communicate only through social media.

In this context, we have been trying to reach the hon’ble Member of Parliament from Ladakh, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal for an interview. Our intention was to check the status of his election promises and to discuss his achievements and failures in office. In November 2021 when we first reached out to him, he asked for our questions in advance to prepare his responses. He has not responded to our calls, text messages and emails since. We have been discussing this within our editorial team and concluded that many of the questions had a confrontational tone, which was unnecessary. I collated these questions and I bear responsibility for their tone. Furthermore, in an editorial earlier this year, I had touched on this issue and said that we would publish the questions if we did not hear back from the hon’ble MP. Our responsibility to ask questions does not justify this form of coercion. That said, our editorial team is divided on this matter. One view is that after numerous failed attempts to reach the person, we should now publish the questions in the public domain and hope for a response. The other view is that we have been rather pushy and should be more patient.

There is merit to both arguments. We need to find a way to perform our responsibilities to continue asking questions, including uncomfortable ones, while remaining respectful and resisting the temptation of self-righteous belligerence. We should also make an effort to reach out to others in public office for similar dialogues.

By Sunetro Ghosal

Sunetro Ghosal is a part of the editorial team at Stawa

The importance of the Nyemo-Padum-Darcha road

Zangskar is a secluded valley in Ladakh that remains inaccessible for a major part of the year and its development lags behind the rest of the region. Road connectivity is an important ingredient to facilitate development in a region. In many ways, roads determine the future of an area. For instance, a mule tract converted into a vehicular road by the Indian Army from Baltal to Gumri and Zoji-la Top enabled the Indian Army to launch a surprise assault with M5 Stuart Light Tanks on 1 November, 1948 and recapture the pass from Pakistani soldiers. This highlights the importance of a vehicular road, especially in Ladakh. It took another decade before a vehicular road connected Leh with Kashmir and the rest of the country in August 1960. This road was constructed under the state budgetary plan. The construction of internal link roads, including the Nyemo-Padum road along Zangskar river, were proposed in the state’s Second Five-Year Plan (1956-1960). Nyemo-Padum road, was the first priority of Ven. Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, who was a Minister in the J&K government at the time. Construction of many roads started with a token budgetary allocation in this plan.

One person who deserves special mention in this regard is Shri Sonam Dawa Dimbir who oversaw the building of many roads in Ladakh despite budgetary constraints during his tenure as an engineer. After retirement, he served as Executive Councillor (EC) in the First Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh. At a public meeting he addressed as an EC at Pologround, Leh in 1996, he claimed that he would extend the budgetary allocation made for one kilometre of road to build five! He had a reputation of holding contractors accountable and making every rupee count.

The Indo-Chinese War in 1962 changed the developmental discourse in Ladakh. It led to the induction of Border Roads Organisation (BRO) for the development and maintenance of major roads in Ladakh from the Public Works Department (PWD). It was the PWD that had first proposed the Nyemo-Padum road and received sanction in the Third Five-Year Plan (1965-1970). A single lane rough road between Nyemo and Chilling was built during this plan period. Around this time, an influential legislator from Kashmir toured Ladakh and gave an adverse report about the Nyemo-Padum road to the state government, which cancelled funds for this road project. These funds were redirected to the Kargil-Padum road under the Fourth Five Year Plan (1970-1975). The Nyemo-Padum road stopped at Chilling. Due to meagre fund allocation, there was negligible progress on the Kargil-Padum road in the plan period of 1970-1975. The state government finally made adequate allocation in its Fifth Five Year Plan (1975-1980) due to the efforts of the then PWD minister, Shri Sonam Norboo.

The 234-kilometre Kargil-Padum road over Penzi-la has historical significance. The Parkachik-Padum section was completed in a record time of two working seasons as a member from each household in Zangskar was involved in the construction of this road in 1978-1979. Community heads were given the responsibility of managing wages and work execution. A tipper and a jeep crossed Penzi-la to enter Zangskar valley and reach Padum in November 1979. This marked the beginning of a new chapter in Zangskar’s history. In the summer of 1980, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama used this road for his first visit to the valley. This was a good omen and marked the dawn of prosperity for Zangskar. The linkage of Zangskar with the outside world through a vehicular road was the result of extraordinary public participation. The credit must also go to then Executive Engineer Shri Sonam Dawa Dimbir and his deputy Babu Tharchin Nomochok along with Zangskari leaders such as Gyalsras Nima Norbu, Pikongma Ka Namyal, Nawang Tashi etc. who mobilised the public. The road alignment to Penzi-la is an engineering marvel created by Babu Tharchin who surveyed, designed and supervised the construction of this road.

The Nyemo-Padum road, which was abandoned in the 1960s, was all but forgotten as attention was focussed on the Kargil-Padum road in this period. In 1980, Shri P. Namgyal was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) from Ladakh and started discussions within Government of India about the importance of the Nyemo-Padum road with an extension to Darcha. Then in 1988, during his second term he became junior Minister for Surface Transport, Government of India. Under his leadership, the ministry sanctioned resources for the Nyemo-Padum road at an estimated cost of INR 36 crore (INR 360 million) and the state government was asked to cover 50% of the cost. This news received wide coverage in the media and sent shockwaves through the corridors of power in the state government. I was a Member of Legislative Assembly from Leh at the time and my counterpart from Kargil opposed this road. I tried my best to explain the importance of this road and its benefits to Kargil and Leh as it would provide a shorter route to Manali while also supporting development in Zangskar. Unfortunately, the project faced widespread opposition and I received no support from any quarter. Thus, the allocation file for 50% of the cost was ‘lost’ in the Civil Secretariat. Unfortunately, P. Namgyal lost the general election in 1989 to the Indian Parliament and the road project was forgotten once again.

P. Namgyal was once again elected as MP from Ladakh in 1996. He once again took up the Nyemo-Padum road with Government of India, which in turn recommended it along with other projects for a developmental project grant to Government of Japan. The Japanese government deputed a team from Japan International Cooperation Agency in late 1996 to visit Ladakh and study the Nyemo-Padum road. The team carried out a cost-benefit analysis and argued that the Nyemo-Padum road would only be used by a few thousand vehicles each year, while a four lane-New Nizamuddin bridge over Yamuna river in Delhi would cost the same and be used by a million vehicles daily. The New Nizamuddin bridge was built in two years by February 1998 and named Indo-Japan Friendship bridge. The Nyemo-Padum road remained incomplete.

The road has been one of the main demands by the people of Zansgkar along with helicopter service and district status. This road would provide all-weather road connectivity to the valley and the distance is significantly shorter than the Padum-Kargil road.

In the wake of the 1999 Kargil War, Government of India established the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) on 29 July, 1999 to identify issues that need to be addressed to avoid such challenges in the future. The KRC was chaired by Shri K. Subramanyam, the then Chairman of National Security Council Advisory Board and included three experts as members. The KRC completed its report in five months. During their visits to Ladakh, the committee members interacted with various Ladakhi leaders. During my conversation with them, I put forth several points including the need for all-weather road connectivity for Zangskar, which echoed the demands of Zangskaris led by Ka Namgyal Pekongma. All the people who interacted with the KRC underlined the need for secure all-season road connectivity between Ladakh and the rest of the country. The Nyemo-Padum-Darcha road is the most viable option in this regard. This road will reduce travel time between Leh and Manali to nine hours from the current 19 hours. A four-km tunnel under Shingo-la can further reduce the travel time. Most importantly, this road will provide all-weather access to Ladakh with minimal intervention where other alternatives require longer and multiple tunnels.

Based on KRC’s recommendations, the Nyemo-Darcha road was formally handed over to BRO in 2001 and it has been under construction since. However, road-work has progressed at a very sluggish pace. In this period, the road reached a few kilometres beyond Chilling at the threshold of a 30-km challenging rocky stretch between Chilling and Lingshed Tokpo. On the other side, the road from Padum has reached Lingshed Tokpo. For some reason, BRO has developed a longer route that circumvents this stretch and travels through Langru, Wanla, Fanji-la, Sumdo, Photoksar, and Lingshed Tokpo. This road traverses Sirsir-la (16,370 ft above mean sea level) and Singge-la (16,227 ft amsl) between Sumdo Photoksar and Photoksar Yulchung. While this road provides connectivity to these remote areas, it needlessly increases the length of the Nyemo-Padum road and dilutes some of its advantages. It was the completion of this route that the Hon`ble MP from Ladakh, Shri Jamyang Tsering Namgyal recently applauded in the Parliament.

It is a national failure that only 256.72 km of the total 297 km has been completed so far. The initial estimated cost for the Nyemo-Darcha road was INR 251 crore (INR 25.1 billion) with a deadline of 2012. This was revised to INR 2,276.13 crore (INR 227.6 billion) in 2019. The revised budget probably includes the proposed Shingo-la tunnel. The project deadline is now in 2025 and includes blacktopping and double-laning as a national highway, which remain a distant dream. It reminds me of the Stakna Mini Hydel Project, which was started in the late 1960s by the state government. It was to be completed in three years at a cost of INR 2.31 crore (INR 23.1 million) and generate 4 MW of power each year. The project was completed after 18 years at a cost of INR 25 crore (INR 250 million) and generated 1.5 MW of electricity for a few years before being abandoned. I hope that the Nyemo-Darcha road does not meet the same fate and meets the 2025 deadline to boost India’s national interests along with Ladakh’s general development, especially Zangskar.

By Tsering Samphel

Tsering Samphel is a former Member of Legislative Assembly from Leh

Mark Fisher: Linking mental health with capitalism

Philosopher Mark Fisher passed away on 13 January, 2017. He is the author of the book, Capitalist Realism: Is there no Alternative? Many of his ideas are very relevant to us today, especially at a time when mental health is emerging as a major concern.

This is important for a close-knit society like Ladakh in a post-capitalist world where social wellbeing is deteriorating. Unfortunately, this mental health crisis is presented as being the result of individual and personal issues. Over time, the mental health crisis becomes pathological in society as a whole. Ladakhi society mirrors the neoliberal hypocrisy of uncritically embracing technological innovations of late capitalism while forcefully preaching about the transcendental sanctity of antique social institutions. This leads to social paradoxes where we see divine beings with highly materialistic tendencies. At the same time, we also see a section of youth who are expected to become a part of the economic production process but start drifting towards drug abuse and petty crime.

This is worsened by the cynical attitude society fosters by blaming these malaises on the individuals themselves or arguing that this is the result of a karmic connection. This pre-empts any attempt to understand the social malaises in their larger politico-economic context.

Mark Fisher resonates here. He was born on 11 July, 1968 in England and grew up in the east Midlands town of Loughborough with working-class parents. Fisher was a cultural theorist who is physically and socially distant from Ladakh. However, he is very relevant to Ladakh as the region is not very different from post-Thatcher Britain in terms of neoliberal policies being implemented by the Indian state. This is especially relevant in the context of the issues created by the reading down of Article 370 and 35A in 2019 and the lack of constitutional safeguards for Ladakh since. Currently, Ladakh is governed by a bureaucracy, which is only accountable to Government of India, which is overtly neoliberal in its approach with a rightwing nationalistic ideology. Unfortunately, we lack reliable data on unemployment rates and the amount of mental distress that the desperate youth of Ladakh are currently experiencing.

Mark Fisher located the pandemic of mental illness in post-capitalist societies at the centre of political discourse. He writes, “The dominant school of thought in psychiatry locates the origins of mental illness in malfunctioning brain chemistry, which are to be corrected by pharmaceuticals.” It misses the most likely cause of mental illness, which is probably the result of social power and various forms of disempowerment. For instance, a person with depression tends to have low serotonin levels, which is generally managed by medication. It misses the point that larger pathological conditions underpinning the malfunctioning of brain chemistry is also caused by the advancement of neoliberalism since the late 1970s. Fisher speaks about the disinterested hedonism of late capitalism to argue that has impersonalised malaises along with the privatisation of mental health. In this context, mental health is regarded as a problem that is to be corrected by the pharmaceutical industry and therapy alone. Furthermore, it roots mental distress in the individual’s immediate surroundings rather than social structures that impact brain chemistry.

Neoliberalism has unleashed powerful corporate forces that have redefined our imagination of the world. We no longer see things for what they actually are with their intrinsic natural qualities. In a neoliberal context, everything is a commodity with a monetary value. Furthermore, 10% of the wealthiest own 70% and 57% of the total wealth in America and India respectively, which are two of the world’s most unequal countries. This is a world where demoralised people are numbed through regular doses of dopamine released by the use of capitalistic technologies such as social-media, which foster the neoliberal agenda. We are now witnessing educated unemployed youth striving to become social media influencers and developing content to garner hits and followers despite the challenges in gathering an audience beyond one’s localised area of influence. This, collective consciousness is easily exhausted in the narcissistic channels of social media, which preempts the possibility of creating social solidarity to foster alternative visions. Intermittently people gather to register dissent, which they share through the same neoliberal media that exhausted their sense of solidarity in the first place.

I am tempted to draw parallels with Fisher’s struggles with episodes of depression throughout his life. As I read his writing, I reflect on how we present Ladakhi society as expressions of peace and beauty does it more harm than good. On the other hand, there is no dearth of apologists for our feudal culture and history. Neither of these two projections tackles the institutions of class and caste that produces the pathologies of mental distress in contemporary times.

Fisher writes that the pandemic of depression is the result of class structures that emerged in British society after the industrial revolution and the two world wars in the 20th Century. It fuels a sense of worthlessness with constant reminders of your class position in society through everyday social interactions. In many cases, these ideas become internalised to the extent that they become a part of the collective conscious of the lower classes. According to Fisher, depression is “a sneering inner voice which accuses you of self-indulgence” and at the same time reminds you of your worthlessness when you pull yourself together and try doing something of ‘worth’. Furthermore, he describes how when someone from the lower classes “moves out of the social sphere they are ‘supposed’ to occupy” then they are in danger of being overcome by feelings of vertigo, panic and horror.” Members of the subordinate classes are encouraged to feel that they have no right to be in that place. They are made to feel that they are nothing and worthless. At the same time, the dominant ideology of contemporary capitalist societies continues to sell the neoliberal dream with arguments such as “it is within every individual’s power to make themselves whatever they want to be.” We see reality TV ‘experts’, business gurus and politicians making such claims and suppressing class consciousness that would otherwise be detrimental to the neoliberal project. Fisher writes, “A particularly vicious double bind is imposed on the long-term unemployed: A population that has all its life been sent the message that it is good for nothing is simultaneously told that it can do anything it wants to do.”

This ideology of neoliberalism is revealed through public confessions by prominent politicians who argue, “It is not in the government’s capacity to provide enough employment opportunities and the youths must shift their focus to entrepreneurship.” These unemployed youth have spent a better part of their lives acquiring education in the hope of gaining meaningful employment at some point, only to then be told that their education is worthless and that they erred by not pursuing entrepreneurship. It ignores the fact that entrepreneurship is not for everyone as it requires specific social skills and it would also not be feasible for everyone. The neoliberal project of selling entrepreneurial dreams in Ladakh is fueled by prospects of capital accumulation through unregulated tourism in the region.

We no longer have a sense of shared realities and public spaces are shrinking rapidly. In its place, people are constantly rushing to possess the latest technologies of capitalism. When a neighbour buys a car, there is pressure on others to buy one too. When someone acquires a specific model of a car or phone, others feel compelled to buy the same model or one that is even more expensive. In this respect, Ladakh is no different from America, which remains a bastion of capitalism. In both places, we see cars selling quickly even as public transport systems continue to deteriorate. Class structures are entrenched too and collective consciousness is eroding rapidly. It is important that we take critical insights of thinkers like Mark Fisher to address the mental health crisis that we are currently experiencing in Ladakh.

By Stanzin Loldan

Stanzin Loldan writes on politics and culture.

Ladakh’s UT paradox: Development for whom?

Ladakh is one the largest regions in India with a diverse collection of tribal communities, which has been experiencing political upheavals over the last two years. This has intensified since the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir state on 5 August, 2019. This change has put Ladakhis into a sudden quandary. There has been a diversity of reactions ranging from those who support to ones who oppose the move to make Ladakh the ninth Union Territory (UT) of India through the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019. Generally, the people of Leh district have periodic debates on this issue while the people of Kargil have been asking for reunification with Gilgit-Baltistan to realise the vision of ‘Greater Ladakh’. Interestingly, after the bifurcation of the erstwhile state of J&K, this demand of ‘Greater Ladakh’ has mysteriously disappeared from the public domain.

Initially, some people were excited at the prospect of their long-cherished demand for Union Territory status. However, with each passing day people have started realising the hollowness of the Union Territory structure. Nothing was promised in the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019, to protect the tribal communities and their natural resources from corporates and various opportunists. People are now even more frightened than earlier due to the lack of protection from exploitation of natural resources such as water, land, and the environment in the name of development. The new UT witnessed public outcry within a year of its formation. One of the most heated debates under the ambit of UT has been the demand of inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. This is now taking the shape of a people’s movement within Ladakh despite a taciturn response from Kargil district.

Several new developments have been taking place in this direction at the regional and central level. In Ladakh, the apex body has been constantly interacting with various stakeholders while at the central level the Home Ministry has appointed a committee headed by Minister of State (Home), G Kishan Reddy. They are expected to submit their report to the Home Ministry in two months. Unfortunately, the apex body has failed to bring all stakeholders onto a single platform to demand inclusion in the Sixth Schedule. The Kargil Democratic Alliance stated in a recent media briefing that their only demand is the restoration of the status of the erstwhile state of J&K along with the special status of Article 370 and 35-A. Some stakeholders have demanded separate statehood for Ladakh.

This sharp ideological difference between the two districts of Ladakh does not bode well for its future. The question remains: Would Ladakh be safe once it is included in the Sixth Schedule? How worried are we about our future? We are not returning to an imagined past of our history. However, it is important for us to scrutinise the paradoxes inherent in various developments that have taken place since Ladakh become a Union Territory.

In recent times, the UT government has initiated several programmes to promote tourism, especially winter tourism, in Ladakh. There is no disputing the fact that tourism is a major contributor to Ladakh’s economy. However, we cannot develop while also causing destruction. We have to choose between development and destruction. An article published in the financial newspaper Mint reportedthat in 2018 a total of 3 27,366 tourists visited Leh district and 101,924 visited Kargil district. This is twice the population of the Ladakh region as a whole. This overflow of tourists hampers the ecological balance of this fragile region. Ladakh’s ecosystem is very sensitive and cannot sustain such a large number of people each year. Unfortunately, many people are not bothered about the environmental destruction caused by tourism.

The efforts to open ecologically-sensitive areas like Pangong-tso and the Chadar Trek for tourists are examples that suggest that we are not true to our claims to save Ladakh’s environment. Despite limited connectivity with the outside world, we continue to witness large number of tourists each year. We can well imagine the destruction and exploitation if the current trend of tourist inflow continues.

Similarly, the government recently announced its intention to establish eight hydropower projects of 144 MW on the Indus river and its tributaries. This is a welcome move to address electricity shortage in the region. However, cloudbursts and heavy rain will endanger villages along the river. This is due to the fact that the landscape in Ladakh does not hold or absorb large amounts of water. Thus, floodwaters will invariably flow into the Indus and ravage adjunct areas.

Interestingly, no political party or socio-religious organisation has so far come forward to express their dissent or disagreements with such decisions. It remains unclear if these projects are meant for Ladakh’s development or for sale outside the region. It is possible that in future the government and other agencies will increase the capacity of these power projects for various reasons and we end up paying a heavy price if and when there are floods, be it displacement of villages along the Indus, loss of fertile soil, ecological imbalance, etc.

Another area of concern is the outsourcing of government recruitment in Ladakh to private agencies. The Administration of Union Territory of Ladakh issued order no 23-LA (PHE/I&FC) of 2021 (08 January 2021) for ‘Deputing Junior Engineers-II appointed through outsourcing to PHE Division, Leh’. This process of outsourcing is a betrayal and an injustice to unemployed youth in Ladakh. Many aspirants who applied for the posts have neither received any confirmation nor been called for an interview by the recruited agency. This process of recruitment lacks transparency.

In a similar case, a private service company called Xeam Venture Pvt Ltd advertised to recruit 200 staff nurses (as claimed in their advertisement) to address manpower shortage in the health sector. This advertisement has not been posted on any of the official websites of UT Ladakh but has been circulating widely through various social media channels. The advertisement is titled, ‘Career Opportunity- Health Care Human Resource Service Openings for Immediate Joining’ and was posted in Facebook groups such as Youth Initiatives Kargil Ladakh (15 December 2020), Ladakh in the Media (15 December, 2020), and Unemployed Youth of Ladakh (16 December, 2020). There is no transparency and nobody knows anything about this company, and if they have been contracted to advertise the nurse posts in Ladakh.

The company too seems to lack transparency and accountability in terms of its screening process. Several candidates claim they have started receiving random emails from the company asking them to deposit a non-refundable security amount equivalent to one month’s salary of around INR 15,000 in advance in the company account. This is rather suspicious. If this is genuine, then this company is expecting to collect 15,000 x 200 = 3,000,000 (Thirty lakh or Three million rupees). If it is not genuine, then the UT Administration should create a system of making clear announcements of openings and if it is hiring private agencies to oversee a process—which would be a gross violation of the trust we have in the government. This unfortunate incident is taking place rather publically over social media and we are all mute spectators. For starters, the UT Administration of Ladakh must stop its obscure practice of outsourcing its recruitment responsibilities to private agencies.

Such developments have become more frequent since Ladakh was declared as a Union Territory. This implies that the people of Ladakh have to remain alert for such challenges to protect our unique jobs and economy as well as our cultural, historical, and environmental heritage. In this regard, we need to be vigilant with regard to decisions being taken by the UT administration in the name of Ladakh’s development. When required we will need to question the logic and purpose for decisions to ensure that we protect the integrity of Ladakhi society.

In addition to the government’s activities, we also need to evaluate our approach as a society. For instance, we will not get far with the hypocritical approach we seem to be avoiding. On the one hand we are demanding protection for Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule and on the other hand we are inviting outsiders in the name of tourism promotion to exploit our resources. We need to be open and clear of our vision, demands and resulting action

By Bashir Ahmad

Bashir Ahmad is a research fellow at Central Institute of Education, Delhi University

Why Zangskar needs mobile internet service

The internet is a central part of our lives today, especially mobile internet whose influence in the lives of people is evident in every developed region of the planet. Internet and mobile data services have fuelled the rapid growth of information technology and play an important role in bridging the digital divide that exists in India even today.

Mobile internet has entered every household where this facility if available. With the popularity of smart phones, everything in the market is now available from inside the comfort of your home, depending on your internet connection. The advancement in this field has led to the development of sectors such as digital marketing and slew of online services such as classes, business, shopping, healthcare, e-banking, UPI transactions, video calling etc. All of this has eased the lives of people and enhanced their access to various services.

In this regard, Zangskar subdivision in Kargil district was completely excluded from these developments as mobile internet was not available here till Jio started mobile services in November 2020. The Jio service is currently available between Padum and Akshow. The rest of Zangskar still does not have mobile internet services. This needs to be corrected at the earliest as Zangskar is one the most remote areas in UT Ladakh. The region constitutes a population of more than 14,000 people who are widely scattered across this valley.

Government of India-owned BSNL has installed V-SAT connections at several Panchayat halqas in the region over the last two years. However, this lacks the convenience and accessibility of mobile internet services. As a result of this, many students and business people from Zangskar are forced to migrate to places outside to ensure that they are able to continue their studies and business activities without hindrance.

There are some positives to this lack of connectivity as it has helped avoid the downsides of modern life and given a boost to the quality of life from local communities. However, the negative side far outweighs this as it has deprived people of access to modern conveniences while students are not able to access educational resources or participate in online classes etc. During the lockdown in 2020, many local students were unable to attend online classes even over the Panchayat V-SAT as its speed remained very slow. As a result, most people in Zangskar remained in the dark even as the rest of the world switched to working online. I faced the same challenges when I needed internet for official purposes. There is an urgent need to extend mobile internet connectivity across the whole of Zangskar valley. This is especially important for Zangskar where people, especially students, are forced to migrate out of the valley each winter as the region remains physically disconnected from the outside world after mountain passes become snowbound. A degree college was instituted in Zangskar in 2018 and has started functioning. However, am sure that teachers and students have faced many challenges due to the lack of mobile internet connectivity prior to November 2020 in Padum. The sub-divisional headquarter in Padum has some internet cafes but these are not fully functional as even the broadband internet connectivity is very slow and unreliable. This has led to many delays in filling online forms, tenders, booking tickets etc.

Zangskar valley

In addition to addressing problems faced by students, introduction of mobile internet across Zangskar valley will give an impetus to development in the region by ensuring that people are aware of their rights and responsibilities. This will have far reaching impacts for all sectors especially the banking system, transportation, tourism, and education. Every section of society is now dependent on seamless internet connectivity. The impact is evident in Padum, which is developing fast even on a limited and unreliable phone and broadband connection. The introduction of Jio mobile internet in Padum in November 2020 is expected to boost this development further.

Zangskar has enormous potential for tourism with many undiscovered destinations and experiences. This includes the famous Chadar trek, the Sani lake, historic Chortens (Stupas), monasteries, glaciers, cultural practices etc. Currently, the valley has fair weather roads that connect it with Darcha in Himachal Pradesh, Kargil town and Leh town. However, it is difficult to coordinate tours and exchange information due to the lack of mobile internet connectivity across the valley. By contrast the travel industry in Leh and Kargil towns seem to work with ease due to mobile internet connectivity.

Similarly, access to mobile internet service in rural areas will give various local businesses a boost as they will be able to access various markets and suppliers through the internet. This will fuel economic growth in an area that has remained backward even as the rest of Ladakh has been experiencing development. Internet connectivity, especially mobile internet, will provide much needed support to local start-ups and small-scale businesses. This would not only help pre-existing businesses understand market trends and demands, it will also create space for new entrepreneurial endeavours.

Mobile internet is thus a key need for places like Zangskar valley as well as other villages in Ladakh, which lack phone connectivity and mobile internet. The lack of digital connectivity across Zangskar valley will prevent us from realising our vision for development.

Photographs and text by Ajaz Ali

Ajaz Ali is a Junior Engineer working in the PWD at Zangskar Sub-division.

The challenge of stone crushers in Zangskar

Zangskar is a remote valley nestled in southern Ladakh. It covers an area of 7,000 sq. km with an average elevation of 7,135m above mean sea level. The valley of Zangskar is drained by two tributaries of the Zangskar river: the Stod (Doda) river and the Lungnak river (Kargyag and Tsarap rivers). Zangskar is a fertile valley that depends on snow-melt that drains through the river systems. Hence, the quality of river water determines the quality of food and general lifestyle in valleys such as Zangskar.

Globalisation and modern development have not spared Zangskar, which has experienced various forms of technological and infrastructural advancements. When such developments are introduced without planning and consultation, it often leads to long-term environmental and negative health impacts.

One such instance of myopic development is that of a stone-crusher that has been developed at a village called Ubrak. The quarrying and mining activities associated with the stone crusher have had long-term impacts on the ecology, economy and the health of local communities. Unfortunately, the stone crushing industry in Zangskar has been growing rapidly due to increasing demand from the construction industry. Stone crushing operations are known to release particulate emissions that lead to environmental degradation along with serious health impacts for humans and wild animals that live in the area.

The conversion of naturally-occurring rocks into crushed and broken stone products involves a series of distinct physical operations. This includes quarrying through drilling, blasting, loading, hauling and process through plant operations such as crushing, screening, conveying and transfer. They are significant sources of particulate emissions. Stone crushing and allied activities generally have a considerable impact on the air, water, land and biological resources as well as socio economic setting of local population. Mining activities always have negative impact on environmental quality.

Since Zangskar is still in the developing stage, various destructive elements will probably be inevitable in the coming days. There is an urgent need to implement strict environmental laws before it is too late. Zangskar has a very fragile ecology, which is already showing signs of degradation due to pollution as a result of increased tourism and growing number of motor vehicles. All this has added to the environmental stress already exerted by stone crushers. There is need to regulate anthropogenic activities especially in terms of tourist inflow and infrastructure development. This includes implementation of current environmental norms such as levying of environmental fee or tax on all stone crusher establishments in Zangskar.

The stone crusher of Ubrak is located very close to the glacier. Glaciers such as these are the primary source of water for various purposes including irrigation for around nine villages downstream. The dust produced from the stone crusher unit is injurious to human health while also polluting air, water, and soil. It also disturbs wildlife and degrades vegetation and medicinal plants.

The stone crusher and such activities have caused glaciers to melt. At the same time it has also had a detrimental impact on wildlife such as marmot, brown bear, fox and medicinal plants, which have completely disappeared from the immediate area around the site of the stone crusher. In addition, the toxic dust from the stone crusher pollutes water bodies, which in turn has detrimental impact on crops and agriculture when it is used for irrigation.

I fail to understand why the local village communities have not uttered a word against such activities especially the stone crushers. Or have their voices been silenced by power or greed? Are we willing to sacrifice our glaciers, which remain our only source of water, and our wildlife on the altar of development? As a resident of Zangskar, I remain deeply disturbed by such development activities, the lack of regulation and our collective callousness.

Photographs and text by Tashi Tsewang (Rukruk)

Tashi Tsewang (Rukruk) works in the tourism sector and is also involved with agricultural activities in his village.