May 2021

The May 2021 issue is now out! Unfortunately with the lockdown restrictions for COVID-19 we are not able to get the printed copies to you. We will get the printed copies in the stands as soon as the restrictions ease.

In the meantime, click on the link below to browse the May 2021 issue online. Please mail us with your feedback and thoughts at [email protected] or use the email form on the About Us page

MAY 2021 ISSUE

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.

Progress and modern Ladakh

One morning during breakfast, my family started talking about new policies of the government towards the idea of ‘progress’ to ensure road connectivity and freshwater pipelines to every house. These ideas are now regarded as basic necessities. I agree that these facilities make life comfortable, save time, and make life more ‘productive’.
However, it also made me wonder about the direction in which we are heading—as individuals, communities and as a country. We generally do not critically question the mainstream system, its priorities and its short and long-term impacts. Most of the structures we create and cherish are modelled on the West but is this always a wise idea? We have seen how Western countries are desperately struggling to find answers to the negative social and psychological impacts of ‘progress’. They are now struggling to change direction, to make the planet more live-able.
I can understand the comfort of ignoring these questions. However, they are now becoming too uncomfortable to live with, especially in the context of the pandemic and its social and economic impacts, rising temperatures and natural disasters. In some way, each of these crises is the result of our so-called ‘progress’. These days everyone is talking about how warm it is in Ladakh (for a change) during October. This suggests that people are aware of global warming. But are we making a connection between ‘global warming’ and ‘progress in the modern world’?
This reminds me of my mother complaining about the impact of westernisation in our culture. Perhaps she did not realise that most of what we are consuming on a daily basis is not produced in Ladakh. In fact, we don’t even know where and how these things are produced and transported. Our culture and traditions are rooted in our community and from our connection to the land where we grow our food. As we replace our food, clothes and building materials with mass-produced products, it is not surprising that our culture has started to suffer.

This realisation has left me feeling directionless and helpless for not being able to grow my own food. It has also encouraged me to re-learn basic skills and knowledge that previous generations took for granted.
I am concerned not only about the tangible impact of this growing global mono-culture on what we eat or what we wear and our lifestyle but also about the growing psychological differences that I see between different generations with regard to our relationship and attitude towards each other, the environment and other living beings.

There has been a shift in mind-set from concern for the common good towards the need to be independent. We do not realise that the capacity of money to fulfil our needs remains hollow. Change is the law of nature but it doesn’t have to be towards destruction of the harmonious ways in which we have lived with nature and each other.
The construction of new buildings is supposed to be a sign of progress. Yet, it’s disheartening to see concrete structures being built on grasslands, pastures and wetlands that once provided fresh spring water and grass for our livestock. This will have long-term impacts on our society and on us.
Similarly, modern technology and connectivity are very useful in accessing medical help, increased mobility and modern education even in remote areas. However, this is a double-edged sword. The same processes also introduce the pressures of global competition and monetary acquisition to feel happy. In time this conditions people to become more self-centred, greedy and eventually become isolated from each other. In a place like Ladakh, I believe it’s still not too late to find a balance between traditional ideas of inter-dependence and modern emphasis on individuality. Is it possible to find a paradigm of ‘genuine progress’ that is about well-being, health, contentment and true prosperity rather than one that is built on competition and endless consumption?
In the context of the novel coronavirus pandemic, more people seem to be inclined to act. Many people have now started talking about localisation and young entrepreneurs have started making an effort to spread awareness and promote alternatives that are sustainable and locally-produced. I hope to see more people understanding the need to change the trajectory of development and rethink fundamental priorities. We are now running out of time for the planet with mounting ecological and social crises.

Photograph and text by Kunzang Deachen

Kunzang Deachen holds a master’s degree in commerce and is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in Anthropology. She works with Local Futures where she spreads awareness of the opportunities that localisation can bring in this modern era.

The unmaking of Kargil town

We only have to look a century in the past to realise the true beauty of Ladakh. Till as recently as 100 years back, Ladakh had snow-laden mountains, thick juniper forests, clean blue rivers flowing through pristine valleys and wild animals and humans thriving together. In this vast landscape, our wise ancestors chose specific spots for their homes. These homes were made with natural material and south-facing, which enabled them to harness the warmth of the sun. These ancestors toiled to flatten lands for cultivation where they planted local crops while also tending to their livestock. They also framed rules of where houses were to be built. For instance, houses were clustered together for warmth and security. They were never located on the valley floor or on the shady side of mountain slopes, where they would face greater risks of rock-slides and floods. Ladakhi culture is founded on such practical wisdom and a spirit of interdependence between humans and with nature.

In this regard, Kargil had great potential of being developed as a hill resort town for people to recover from the ills of modernity and the heat of the plains. Initially, change was gradual and systematic, which would have resulted in the organic growth of Kargil town. However, sudden economic boom resulted in an avalanche of changes. The resulting prosperity led to an abrupt shift in the general attitude towards the environment. This is evident in haphazard and unplanned construction of houses, hotels, and shops with little regard to topography and time-tested wisdom of our ancestors. This has not only increased our vulnerability to natural disasters, it has also transformed the town into an eyesore. We now have ugly buildings constructed on the best agricultural lands. We no longer have fruit orchards and open spaces, which have been sacrificed on the altar of greed.

We now have a substantial part of Kargil town’s population living in congested and unplanned neighbourhoods that lack basic amenities. We do have various rules and regulations for constructions but the local administration has been lax in enforcing them. As a result, permissions for construction have been granted easily and structures have been built without any planning or foresight.

The town is blessed with a perennial river in the form of the Suru. There were plans to create a beautiful walkway along its banks similar to Srinagar’s Boulevard road. I still remember the open spaces and cultivated fields along the banks of the Suru during my younger days. This area could have been developed into a beautiful crescent-shaped open space or even a public market. It is important to keep the aesthetics in mind, while still meeting practical needs of the town. Instead, of a promenade with street lights, craft shops, cafeterias, and open restaurants, the whole stretch has become a hub for meat shops, timber sellers and hardware shops. Similarly, Kargil town has a beautiful village called Poyen across the Suru. It was once considered the lungs of the town and was a soothing sight in the summer. This village has slowly turned into a slum area, with narrow streets and shabby buildings.

There is a growing demand for residential space in Kargil town due to the influx of people from rural areas for employment and education. Unfortunately, government schools in rural areas are still not at par with their counterparts in the town or with private schools.

This disparity in access to quality education is hurting our society in multiple ways. In addition to adding pressure on the town’s resources, it is also evident in the lack of civic sense amongst the populace. In addition to the government, the common people also bear responsibility for ensuring basic amenities in their neighbourhoods, including roads, water, emergency access, open spaces and playgrounds etc. Quality education is the main pillar of any society. In fact, South African leader Nelson Mandela famously stated, “Destroying any nation does not require use of atomic bombs or the use of long range missiles. But it only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in examinations by students…The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.”

We need to develop a thought out plan for housing colonies that adheres to guidelines, rules and regulations. The plan must be developed through consultations of town planners and residents after weighing risks and advantages for each site in the larger landscape. Unfortunately, all these steps have been stubbornly ignored and Kargil town has been disfigured beyond recognition. For instance, we have a beautiful plateau called Kurbathang. It was a deserted and arid area, till a water canal was built to transform it into lush plateau. I still remember when His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Kargil for the first time when the plateau was a desert. When he visited the area once again some years later, he admired the transformation and commented, “This is what real prosperity means!” This beautiful plateau is now being endangered with haphazard development due to the lack of planning.

There is little hope for the future of Kargil town given the current divisions that exist in society. Kargili society is unnecessary divided due to the political aspirations of two religious schools; Islamia School, Kargil and Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust. The resulting divisions run deep through every section of Kargili society. These divisions are most obvious during elections, which are meant to improve governance but devolve into a power struggle every time.

These divisions are fairly recent and are sustained by vested interests who seek to use them to access power, resources and patronage. Unfortunately, the younger generation in Kargil have now become enmeshed into this political division to the detriment of society at large. Ironically, there is actually no real theological difference between the two camps. However, the schism continues to be sustained by self-serving people despite the negative impact it has on our social fabric.

This situation reminds me of a famous Persian proverb, “Do muroq-ra jang baaz, teer gher ra faida ast” (The hunter benefits when two wild birds fight). The wisdom of this proverb is constantly being played out in Kargili society, with opportunistic and self-serving people taking advantage of these divisions. All of this has contributed to the haphazard development of Kargil town.

However, the situation can still be remedied. Any corrective measures will be challenging but not impossible. First of all, we need to eliminate unnecessary social divisions and build consensus by including every section of society irrespective of their political, religious, gender, class affiliations, Social divisions will only lead to the collapse of our society. Our leaders and society members must be compelled to repair such divisions, especially the two dominant religious camps that have torn the society apart. This will be a difficult challenge but it is not impossible. Here each member of our society has a big role to play as a leader is only as good as the people he or she leads, which is evident in another famous Persian proverb, “Awaaz e khalq, naqaara e khuda” (The voice of the people is the voice of God). We thus need to hold our leaders accountable for their actions. This will be the first step in the herculean task of rescuing Kargil town from oblivion. The prosperity and unity of our society will be manifested in the growth of our towns and villages, where the people once again follow rules and respect the wisdom of our ancestors.

Text by Dr. (Kacho) Akbar Khan

Photographs by Dr. (Kacho) Akbar Khan and Kacho Sohrab Khan

Dr (Kacho) Akbar Khan is a retired Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist and is based in Kargil.

Insights from the pandemic

Its Saturday. Well, everyday seems the same nowadays. Just the date on the calendar keeps changing. But life is no longer the same. A pandemic has taken over the world. It is creating a new world order. The polarity of powers in the world is changing. Maybe, we asked for this change.

But there is another change too. The Earth is healing. Nature is once again dominating the game. Maybe this pandemic is part of Earth’s anti-virus system. Animals are rejoicing because human interference in their lives has reduced significantly. Maybe, their prayers have been answered.

People were busy with their lives, earning money, going to school, attending various ceremonies. Nobody saw it coming, or maybe we just ignored all the warning signs.

Although we are all with our families, we are still away. Our homes have now also become an office, a school and a college. And now working hours have extended to become indefinite.

Students were preparing for examinations and planning their future. But the future had something else in store for them as life threw a tougher examination in their direction. This was a test for which they were certainly not prepared.

Hundreds of thousands have already died from the virus. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Hundreds and thousands of people are slipping into depression. Families are parting. Suicide rates are increasing. Maybe we were taking a lot of things for granted.

The pandemic highlighted shortcomings and defects of various institutions of countries around the world. It exposed how fragile and unprepared everyone was in the face of such challenges. Well, some saw this as an opportunity to improve, while others were busy in finding someone to blame.

Well at least this virus doesn’t look at the bank balance or the status of a person before infecting them. However, the vaccine certainly will. Life will be put on one side of the scale and money on the other. Just hope that our lives do not weigh too lightly on this scale.

Not much will have changed for apex ‘predators’, who are at the top of the economic food chain. However, there are many at the base of the pyramid, whose lives have changed forever. Maybe, people put too many expectations on the government and other public institutions.

Only the poor know how expensive it is to be poor. Sometimes it’s not about being without money, but being without hope. The people that they considered as their saviours have only emerged to play politics over their dead bodies.

We were given more than we needed. But nothing is enough for those who always want more.

They say, times change. But no one expected that it will change in such a manner. Well, it’s our expectations that caused us the misery. Those of us who were ungrateful and used to complain about how bad our lives were have had their complaints addressed.

If we are keenly listening to what nature has to say, then we would agree that these hard times have taught us many things that a lifetime could not. We must remember that ‘sweet’ can only make sense when ‘bitter’ exists and that light can only make sense when darkness exists.

By Zeshan Ali

Zeshan Ali is from Kargil and is currently pursuing a BA programme in Delhi with Political Science and Geography as his core subjects.

Imagining Ladakh

Ladakh has been on the periphery of development for several decades now. I started thinking of how Ladakh would be, if it were at the core of development, say if it was a nation-state that determined its own development. This thought made me wonder about the first thoughts that come to our mind when we think of a country. My first thought was about physical size. I always imagined that a nation-state would necessarily have a large territory, say much larger than the erstwile state of Jammu and Kashmir. So I did an online search for the smallest countries of the world and I was very surprised! The smallest countries in the world are dwarfed by the municipal limits of Leh or Kargil town:

CountryAreaPopulation
Vatican City0.44 sq.km825
Monaco2 sq.km36,000
Nauru21 sq.km12,708
Tuvalu26 sq.km10,000
San Marino61 sq.km30,000

I wondered how Ladakh would be if it were in control of its own development process. And so, I started imagining Ladakh as a country by itself where it was able to set its own priorities and develop at its own pace.

Ladags is nestled among the high mountains of the Ladakh, Zangskar and Karakoram ranges that are drained by rivers such as the Indus and Shyok. The people who live here reflect a mix of influences from the east, west Asia and various Eurasian regions. As a nation-state, it has nurtured its centuries-old tradition of music and festivals. The youth have an inexhaustible energy of explorying new and innovative ways of sustainable living, be it for house constuction or food production.

The governance is exemplary and reflects a mix of best governance practices from around the world. The country is rich in renewable energy resources including sun, geothermal and hydro power, which are tapped using sustainable technologies. This has ensured energy supply to every village in the country with surplus energy being sold to neighbouring countries. Energy and tourism have emerged as the main pillars of the country‘s economy.

Speaking of tourism, this country has something for every traveller; be it a romantic gateway for lovers as well as adventure and wildlife spotting opportunities for enthusiasts. This country has a well-regulated tourism industry and remains a treat for adventure sports due to its terrain that tests a person physically and mentally. The mountains are also rich in medicinal herbs and plants that have been used by locals for centuries and is now attracting attention from the world over. It also has an exquisite tradition of artistic prusuits including pottery and statue-making that remain in great demand. The country also stands as a shining example of religious tolerance and coexistence with different communities living together in harmony.

Similarly, its research institutions, such as the University of Ladakh, are conducting cutting-edge research on various topics including climate change, earth sciences, renewable energy, wildlife conservation etc. The education system is finely tuned to provide holistic growth of its students and incorporates best practices in each sector. Professional educational institutions like medical, engineering, and management institutes have visiting faculties, researchers and students from across the globe and have a pragmatic mix of theory and practice. There are government schools in every village, which provide world-class education. The toughest screening in any profession is for teachers who have to clear various examinations as well as emotional, personality and psychological tests. It is also the best-paying and most respected profession in the country. Recruitment for various jobs is done through a well-established transparent system based on merit. Similarly, promotions to higher posts are based on educational qualification, which ensures that people are constantly learning.

The political institutions in the country are based on the principles of equal participation by all members of society, irrespective of gender, religion and caste. There is a strong tradition of democratic representation and governance where people‘s voices are heard and help shape inclusive public policy.

Every village is well-developed in all aspects such as technology advancement, educational infrastructure, and energy development. The use of technology in agriculture has enhanced food security across the country. Apricots, seabuckthorn, and buckwheat are some of the major exports from the country. Since each village is self-sustaining and have all sevrices available locally, there is little need for people to migrate away from their homes.

Ladakh has strict environment protection policies that ensure environmental and social sustainability. Environmental and social clearances have to be obtained for all developmental activities to ensure that no activity undermines the country‘s heritage in any manner.

Ladakh is well-conected with the outside world. The international airports in Leh and Kargil are well-connected with all major airports in the world throughout the year. In addition, there are regular train services between Ladakh and neighbouring countries. The public transport system is well-managed, efficient and uses renewable energy sources. In fact, local people prefer using public transport than their own private vehicles.

Ladakh continues to play its role in regional trade. It is strategically located on the cross-roads of Asia and continues to function as a bridge for trade that links countries in east, south, central and west Asia. This generates substantial revenue for Ladakh as a trade hub.

There is no discrimination in Ladakh based on gender or any other identity markers. This has ensured the it is one of the top countries in the world that attracts the best talent from around the world. It is not surprising that Ladakh has emerged as a global leader in attracting professionals and tourists alike. It also attracts people from around the world to apply for citizenship and settle here premanently.

While I am not arguing that it must become an independent country, this is the Ladakh of my imagination. And as Albert Einstien once said, “Imagination is the preview of life´s coming attractions.ˮ

By Kunzes Dolma

Kunzes Dolma is an engineer by training and is currently a doctoral fellow at the UNESCO GRÓ-Geothermal Training Programme in Rekjavik, Iceland.

COVID-19: Time to rethink development

The lockdown has given us a rare opportunity to step back and assess our priorities and impact on the environment. The positive impact of the lockdown is evident in the clean air and water being reported from around the world.

I had returned to my village when the Prime Minister announced the first lockdown in late-March. I ended up spending the whole lockdown period in the village assisting my family with various agricultural and pastoral tasks. This was the first time I had spent so much time in the village since my childhood. This made me reflect on the idea of development itself.

I have worked in the tourism sector for over 10 years like most of the young people in the village. However, this year the COVID-19 pandemic underlined the fact that tourism remains an unsustainable and unreliable source of livelihood. In the past, when I would return to the village, I would only meet the elderly as all the young people had left the village to pursue livelihood or educational opportunities. However, during the lockdown I realised that people in the village are constantly busy in productive work and have little time to worry about things like COVID-19. I spent my time working on the farm, planting fruit trees and tending to the garden. As a result, I became much fitter than I was earlier. I also ended up meeting and speaking with more people in my village and neighbouring areas than I have in the past.

I noticed an interesting trend during the lockdown period. Many young people had returned to the village for the first time in their lives. They were surprised to realise that it was much cheaper to live in the village where they are able to grow their own food. Like me, they also admitted that they became physically fitter in the village where they engaged in physical and mental work on a regular basis. At the same time, all of us were eating much healthier and more wholesome food as most of what is grown is organic in nature. I could not help but think how this lifestyle must have boosted our immune system and substantially reduced the risk posed by viruses such as SARS-CoV-2.

I also noticed that having everyone back in the village had a very positive impact on its social and economic life. This year, none of the households had to hire daily wage labourers for any chores as there was a surplus of family members present. I saw and heard of numerous cases where families have revived and cultivated land that they had left barren for several years. Many of the youth mentioned that they are now faced with a simple choice of either looking for a government job or finding a more sustainable and reliable source of livelihood.

During the lockdown, my villagers started re-distributing barren land amongst the youth for irrigation and cultivation. I was surprised to see how much these youth seemed to enjoy farming and working on the land. The period of the lockdown was used productively as these youth managed to learn various skills needed for farming, orchard plantation, management of irrigation canals etc. In this time of uncertainty, this not only ensured that these youth were productively engaged but also ensured that they contributed to the well-being of the village.

Over the last few decades, most development in Ladakh has been centred on Leh. As a result, many people from rural Ladakh migrated to Leh in search of jobs and educational opportunities. However, none of us expected our world to be turned upside down in the manner that COVID-19 has done. Many people have now started appreciating that rural life is more sustainable and fulfilling than life in urban areas like Leh. I have heard many people announcing that they now intend to return and stay in their villages for longer periods each year to practice farming, nurture plantations, and irrigate fields.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an important wake up call. It has helped people evaluate their lifestyles while appreciating the importance of rural life and underlined its sustainable nature. It has also forced people to realise the need for sustainability in an unpredictable world. The realisation of the fickleness of current frameworks is probably one of the biggest lessons of COVID-19 for Ladakh. It is also an opportunity to help people value the importance of happy and fulfilling lives over one based on earning money. In my opinion, the UT Administration should use this opportunity and push for a more sustainable form of development for Ladakh in the wake of COVID-19 with the rural economy at its core.

Photograph and text by Tsering Stobdan

Tsering Stobdan is a part of the editorial team at Stawa

COVID-19: An opportunity for localisation

COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 is known to have emerged from Wuhan in Hubei province of China in December 2019. Since then, it has become a global health emergency that was declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 11 March, 2020. This new strain of virus is creating havoc worldwide. It has affected almost every sector in some way or the other and has disrupted normal social and economic functioning. The global spread of this infection has restricted international and domestic travel with many countries enforcing a lockdown and mandating social distancing which has impeded the global supply chain of various commodities.

Prior to the outbreak of this pandemic, it was believed that globalisation will lead to development and prosperity. However, the whole scenario has changed now with almost every part of the world under some form of lockdown, which has posed a major challenge to the fulfillment of the demand for various goods and services. This is has shifted focus on the importance of the ‘local’.

The situation was no different in Ladakh when restrictions were placed on the transportation of various supply chains during the crucial period (summer months). I am describing summer months as a ‘crucial period’ for Ladakh as it is the only period when we are open for economic activities. This is difficult in the rest of the year with the onset of winter when the roads to the outside world remain closed for several months each year. Ladakhis stockpile all basic commodities in the summer to last them for the rest of the year.

During the lockdown, vegetables and fruits were nowhere to be seen in Ladakh and there was a shortage of other food items too. This was primarily due to travel and transport restrictions at a time when these commodities are usually brought to Ladakh. Such a situation calls for a return to the days of the past, when Ladakh was a self-sustaining and self-reliant kingdom and dependent on the outside world for very few commodities. However, with gradual improvement in connectivity and the increased impact of globalisation, we became dependent on the outside world for each of our basic necessities and economic development.

The arrival of tourists from 1974 onwards, revolutionised Ladakh’s economy with many preferring to invest in tourism-based businesses instead of traditional agriculture and animal-based livelihoods. In time, the occupational shift became so prominent that people in Ladakh are now completely dependent on the transportation of basic commodities such as vegetables, fruits, and oils from the outside world.

Here I am not saying that we should all move back to traditional agriculture and animal farming when the world is going in a different direction. However, I am trying to highlight the unsustainable dependence we have nurtured to meet even of our basic needs, which we can easily be produced in Ladakh. For instance, a wide variety of vegetables and basic goods like oil, butter, flour, etc can be produced in Ladakh and imports can be reduced as we scale-up local production. Once we have enough production in Ladakh, there will be no need to transport them from outside. At the same time, there would be more employment and people would not need to migrate outside for job opportunities.

Localisation doesn’t mean to necessarily become completely self-reliant. Instead, it refers to a reduction in the distance between producers and consumers and consequent need for unnecessary transportation. This idea of being local has been emphasised by German economist E. F. Schumacher in his book Small is Beautiful (1973) and Swedish filmmaker and author, Helena Norberg-Hodge in her film Economics of Happiness (2012).

Ladakh has the potential to be a self-reliant and self-sufficient Union Territory wherein we will not need to unnecessarily transport basic goods from outside as they can be grown and produced in the region. This includes vegetables and fruits as well as education facilities and job opportunities. There are many advantages to being local and consuming locally-produced goods. It ensures a quality assurance for products as one can trace its origins easily. Perishable vegetables and fruits will be safer to consume with less chemical content and preservatives, which in turn will help boost our immunity to withstand various infections.

We already have numerous goods being produced locally with several entrepreneurs making new innovations. For instance, the current increased demand in facemasks and hand-sanitisers has led to many volunteers producing these locally in Ladakh. These are small acts of being local. Localisation also has a number of positive environmental impacts. The reduction in unnecessary transportation will lead to a major reduction in the carbon footprint of each commodity, help conserve natural resources, reduce environmental pollution, ensure food security and mitigate climate change. In addition, it will create new job opportunities, reduce economic conflicts and increase contentment amongst local communities.

In my opinion, we must consider the COVID-19 pandemic as a wakeup call from nature. It signifies that it is time for us to give back to nature what we have been taking from it till now. It is not the last pandemic and global disaster that we will have to overcome. Hence, it is essential that we learn our lessons so that we are able to overcome these challenges when we face them again. Moreover, each disaster has a lesson it, which serves as an opportunity to make changes for the future. I feel it is the right time to reboot the system, build local capacity, and promote local production to create a more resilient society with a localised economy.

By Thinles Chondol

Thinles Chondol is currently working as a Young Professional at the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India