Ladakhi students at crossroads

Right from the beginning of 2020, the people of Ladakh have been forced to come out on the roads to demand safeguards for their newly-born Union Territory (UT).More than eight months have passed since UT Ladakh was carved out of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and was granted UT status without a Legislative Assembly. A series of discussions, debates and protests have been going on in and outside Ladakh for the past eight months with student community taking the lead.

The protests intensified in the wake of the Ministry of Home Affair’s categorical refusal to include Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, despite an explicit recommendation to this effect from the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST). The stated reason, as mentioned in the Parliament, was that the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDCs) have more powers than autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule. Even a passing effort to fact check this claim reveals that this argument has no truth either in its logic or actual ground reality.

The people of Ladakh are demanding constitutional mechanisms to safeguard their interests including protection of land, environment, jobs, and culture to conserve the unique ethnic identity of the region. Demography-related changes are a potential challenge as Ladakh has a large surface area in relation to its relatively small population of around 300,000 people. Considering these issues, people in Ladakh are exploring various provisions and constitutional measures to protect the interests of the tribal communities that make up 98% of Ladakh’s population and gain a degree of autonomy over administration and legislation.

The silence broke when Ladakh student communities learnt of short-sighted changes that had been ‘imposed’ on the region. What started out as whispers among educated Ladakhi youth inside and outside Ladakh soon turned into loud roar with people demanding justice and protection of their interest.

The lack of access to quality higher education in Ladakh has resulted in the mass migration of students from Ladakh to various universities and colleges across India. Every year hundreds of Ladakhi students enrol at various colleges, universities and institutions partly through open categories and partly through reservations explicitly meant for Ladakhis. Such measures are based on the principle of ‘Positive Discrimination’. Many colleges and universities such as government medical colleges, government engineering colleges, University of Jammu and others are now under the jurisdiction of UT of J&K. If students from Ladakh are not allowed to enroll in these colleges and universities from the next academic session on account of being categorised as ‘outsiders’ i.e. not the bonafide residents of UT of J&K, then it is grave injustice for these students. There are no medical and engineering colleges in Ladakh as of now and the government degree colleges in Ladakh are not yet at par with colleges in J&K. The ambiguous status of University of Ladakh does not help this situation either.

This has also fuelled apprehensions about possible loss of public employment opportunities within the newly-formed UT Ladakh. Unemployment continues to plague Ladakhi society, which is still developing. The number of public sector employment opportunities that Ladakhi students enjoyed in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir is going to reduce drastically in UT Ladakh.

In the erstwhile state of J&K, J&K Public Service Commission and J&K Service Selection Board used to advertise a large number of gazetted and non-gazetted posts at the state, divisional level and district level to cater to the needs of 1.25 crore (12.5 million) people of the former state. Apart from these two recruiting agencies, various other departments would also advertise jobs. The two LAHDCs would also advertise jobs at the district level that were explicitly meant for bonafide residents of their respective districts apart from seats reserved for Scheduled Castes.

Tribal communities account for around 98% of UT Ladakh’s population. They enjoyed reservations in accordance to the J&K Reservation Act, 2004 in government jobs, which has benefitted the people of the region. Under this act, reservation for STs was 10% while the national mandate for reservation for STs 7.5%. Reservation benefits through the Residents of Backward Areas (RBA) category were also available to the people of Ladakh. The J&K Reservation Act, 2004 was rather progressive. It had a provision that if a sufficient number of candidates from any reserved category were not available during the recruitment process, the post would remain vacant and carried forward to the next recruitment process. Thus, the people of Ladakh had many viable options to get a government job in the erstwhile state of J&K: open merit basis as well as ST and RBA categories for state, divisional and district level jobs.

It is clearly stated in the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 that the Union Public Service Commission or UPSC will cater to the administrative needs of UT Ladakh. This has already exerted a lot of pressure on Ladakhi students aspiring for jobs as recruitment for posts in Ladakh through UPSC may put Ladakhis at a disadvantage. One only needs to look at the abysmal success rate for UPSC applicants from the erstwhile state of J&K. The success rate for Ladakhi applicants in these examinations is worse than that of the other two regions of the former state. The level of competition is very high and students face intense pressure to perform; which has pushed many of them into acute depression. The absence of a private sector in Ladakh and the lack of safeguards for job reservation for Ladakhis will only aggravate this situation.

When we compare employment prospects in the erstwhile state and UT Ladakh, one finds that the current framework undermines opportunities for Ladakhi youth. Government employees of the erstwhile state of J&K were given a choice of choosing either of the two UTs to continue their duties. Many people hailing from Ladakh who were posted in Jammu region and Kashmir valley opted to serve in UT Ladakh. In many departments, staff strength has exceeded the necessary strength. The transfer of non-Ladakhi government employees to UT J&K may address this issue to an extent. At the same time, we must remember that this can be further complicated by the absence of proper legislation to regulate recruitment. In its absence, employment remains open to non-residents of Ladakh, which will undermine the employment prospects of Ladakhi youth.

Like other Indian states and Union territories, Ladakh must work out legislative mechanisms to ensure fair job opportunities in the region for local communities. It urgently needs to formulate its own reservation policy to ensure that the brightest minds in this region do not miss out on opportunities due to lack of support. The reservation policy for Ladakh should be based on economic, social and demographic characteristics of the region itself. Moreover the formation of Ladakh Public Service Commission could be one step to organise the employment sector in the region and coordinate every government job in the UT to ensure fair opportunities to the youth and students of Ladakh.

The scope of public employment opportunities in Ladakh is not very lucrative but it needs to be reserved to protect the interest of the resident population. There is an urgent need to address this issue. Policymakers, parliamentarians and other decision-makers must keep the plight of Ladakhi students in mind before they make any laws related to domicile status and job reservation. Till we have high quality medical, engineering, and other colleges and universities in Ladakh, students from the region should be allowed to enrol in institutions of UT J&K. We need to maintain status quo till UT Ladakh develops its own recruitment policy. Similarly, Ladakhi students must be permitted to apply for jobs in UT J&K till these issues are ironed out.

There are provisions in neighbouring states like Himachal Pradesh that reserves certain jobs for students who have completed their matriculation and secondary school education (10 + 2) from Himachal Pradesh for jobs advertised for residents of the state. This can easily be replicated in J&K as a majority of Ladakhi students have completed their education under the JKBOSE system.

In the current circumstances, many students are facing a lot of stress and anxiety due to the lack of employment. We must develop a harmonious working environment for governmental services between the two UTs. The mandarins in Delhi must consider the consequences of their action before they formulate new laws or policies.

Editor’s note: This article was written before the new domicile law for Jammu and Kashmir came into effect in March 2020.

By Ghulam Mustafa

Ghulam Mustafa is a doctoral scholar in the Department of Economics at University of Jammu.

4 thoughts on “Ladakhi students at crossroads

  1. A violated education right
    ”At the strokes of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India would awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance” as I read the famous speech of the first prime minister of independent India on the midnight of November 18 and visualized the rally that Ladakhi students took out from the university campus to the press club here in protest for an independent university in ladakh and as predicted by Panditji decades ago the youth of ladakh has awaken indeed, after being suppressed by the ruling folk and now the youth has come together for their own cause and come over for their educational right which the constitution of India provides them. The message was so clear that it shook the ethics of the leaders of two hill councils in ladakh and came over their political agendas as they realized that it may result in an agitation against the councils and forced the chairman of LAHDC Kargil to take up the issue with the governor. A new beginning is sought by the hundreds of students who reside outside ladakh or I say are forced to leave ladakh for education, residing as refugees in different cities of India scores away for parents, relatives and an our culture which is being already astonishingly damaged extensively by the west.
    Refugee a term which Google explains me as “a person who has been forced to leave his country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster” is every person who is related to it tries to detest him or herself of this tag. There are different types of refugees in the state of Jammu & Kashmir like west Pakistani refugees, rohingyas etc. But today I may introduce hundreds of Ladakhi students including myself as the ironically the new world educational refugees, who are forced to leave their native place in search of better education facilities. Adding ‘forced to leave native place in search of education due to ignorance of rulers to the meaning of refugee to Google won’t cause any astonishment to the ladakhis. Despite of remaining cut off from the rest of the world for about six months of the year the literacy rate of ladakh is more than 75%, which shows the seriousness of ladakh towards education, rather giving a befitting reply to those tried persuaded them away from the Alma of education. The seriousness is that to such an action that ladakh spends about 50% of the economy on education itself sending their children hundreds of kilometers away from home for professional and academic courses due to unavailability of even a single proper functioning institution in whole region of ladakh which comprises of more than 50% area and a population of about 2.74 lakh.
    The data revealed by the University Grants Commission (UGC), there are about 874 universities, which include 391 state universities, 125 deemed to be university, 47 central universities and 31 private universities flourishing education all over country. In the state of jammu and Kashmir 14 universities including two central universities, each one in jammu and Kashmir region. Interestingly ladakh don’t comprises a university at all, whose area in total is 59,146 sq. kms while the total area of both jammu and Kashmir division is 42,241 sq. kms. The center and the state have been claiming to care the welfare of state beyond geo graphical constraints to endure equality and opportunity so as to contribute in national building. The democratic process of universal adult franchise has been miserably failed in ladakh despairing the young blood and their thought process out of the political arena as they are never in ladakh during the elections, rather they are compelled out of this issue and the Election Commission mere only put their names on the electoral list of their respective constituencies. The ignorance is such that the Member of Parliament (MP) from ladakh resigned due to step motherly behavior of the central government. Nobody, has yet to come up with the issue of the education to a higher level. The satellite campuses of Kashmir university seems idiotically established in both districts as the merely collect the papers only and send them to university of Kashmir and they announce the result with the whole Kashmir division and in most of the cases the conduction of examinations is badly effected due the centralization with Kashmir which results in the prolonged delay and postponement and conferring of degrees vary late in degree colleges of Leh and Kargil due to the violent turbulences orchestrated in the Kashmir valley.
    We are spread all over India form Srinagar to Kanyakumari, form Rajasthan to far east till Kolkata perusing B.A, M.A, B.Tech, MA, M.Sc., M.tech, Ph.D., M.B.B.S and scores of other subjects, draining the economy of ladakh of over 100 crore annually. The logic behind the migration has never been accepted by as all of us know we are being discriminated and accept the failure of successive governments. The emotional pressures, economic, physical and mental health of students as well as parents is adversely affected. The centralized government talks to lift the poor while in ladakh the poor could afford the class fourth jobs due to the stature of eligibility of jobs. The hardships faced by the people of ladakh in general youth for establishing a university in ladakh is found to be reasonable. A higher institution of such caliber could shape the destiny of ladakh and could give core disciplinary training as well as courses immediately useful for the mountainous communities for their sustenance. The scope of course like Astrophysical science, Glaciology, Mineralogy, Anthropology, Islamic and Buddhist studies is immense.
    With all routes failed the student community itself has taken the task to script a new way to demand for a university for ladakh under the flagships of various students associations all over India since the movement began in 2010. Recent huge protest in various cities of India has drawn attention of the government resulting a turbulence in the successive LAHDC’s causing the CEC LAHDC kargil to take the issue with the governor. The result is awaited, but the storm has hit the spirits of the students and the youth has taken it quite seriously as it is their constitutional right.
    Zahoor ahmad
    Drass kargil
    P.S :This article was written in supoort for a full fledged university to ladakh.

  2. is it also not a matter of concern that the recruitment processes for various jobs which initiated last year in district Kargil are yet to be completed. Is there not a chance that these recruitment processes get cancelled with the citation of some irregularities or technical problems or even if not get cancelled is there not a chance that the results get altered to the disadvantage of the deserving students and even if not so, is it not injustice towareds the aspirants of these jobs that it’s taking this long in these times of such economic stress.
    Why are the masses silent.
    Or have we got used to be dominated by the powers that are based in us the people but are used by the few to our prejudice.
    Why is no body speaking against it?
    Why are we not bothered with our own rights being delayed so long?

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