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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.