Sonam Wangchuk says Leh turned into war zone as Sec 144 comes into force

Wangchuk and supporters are set to hold a 'border march' tomorrow to highlight alleged encroachments by China into Indian territory

Sonam Wangchuk in his natural habitat (photo: @Wangchuk66/X)
Sonam Wangchuk in his natural habitat (photo: @Wangchuk66/X)

NH Digital

"LEH IS BEING TURNED INTO A WAR ZONE with disproportionate force, barricades, smoke grenades. Attempts to arrest peaceful youth leaders even singers continue. Seems they want to turn a most peaceful movement violent & then brand Ladakhis as anti-nationals. Govt seems worried only about Ladakh's effects on their votes and on mining lobbies... not the people here nor even national security. Let's raise our voice, let's make..."

This is the text from the latest X post by climate activist and educationist Sonam Wangchuk describing the situation in the Ladakhi capital. On 27 March, Wangchuk had announced that the agitation to demand statehood for Ladakh would be intensified and a 'border march' would be held on 7 April in the eastern part of the Union territory to highlight ground realities, including alleged encroachments by China into Indian territory.

Tweeting in Wangchuk's support, the Congress put up a post in Hindi that also quoted the activist as saying, "Leh-Ladakh has been made a 'war zone'. The police also arrested the people who participated in our fast and took them to the police station, where they were asked to fill a bond. We feel that the situation here can go out of control at any time.

"Why is the government so nervous? What does the government want to hide? The Modi government is only concerned about corporates and votes, not about the people and security of Ladakh."

Wangchuk, who is part of the Leh-based apex body that comprises social, religious and political organisations, said they were adopting a Gandhian approach in their agitation, which he said was vital to safeguard the fragile environment of the region and the indigenous character of its population.

"We are followers of (Mahatma) Gandhi's Satyagraha. We are demanding the fulfilment of the promises made to us by this (BJP) government through its manifestos which led its candidates to win Parliamentary polls (in 2019) and hill council polls in Leh (2020)," Wangchuk told a gathering in Leh on 27 March.

A day earlier, the activist had ended his 21-day climate fast in support of the demand for statehood for Ladakh and its inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution on Tuesday evening.

Speaking to media as well as through regular social media posts on various occasion to describe Chinese encroachment in Ladakh, Wangchuk has claimed that local shepherds say they are no longer allowed to go to places they had always taken their animals to earlier. Indeed, he says the shepherds are now stopped several kilometres from their traditional grazing grounds.

"We will go there and show whether the land has been lost or not," Wangchuk said. He has also said the proposed march would begin from the north and south banks of Pangong Tso lake, Demchok, Chushul and other areas on the line of actual control (LAC) with China.

In a separate tweet, the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) has declared its solidarity with the people of Leh and deplored the administration’s attempt to "crack down on peaceful ‘Pashmina March’ which is scheduled to be held tomorrow 07 April 2024".

With the Ladakh administration imposing prohibitory orders banning rallies on Sunday and a 24-hour reduction in internet speed, the Leh-based apex body said it has no intention of violating laws and hoped it will be allowed to carry out its proposed 'border march'.

The apex body, along with KDA, is spearheading the agitation to demand statehood for Ladakh and its inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

In an apparent move aimed at countering the march, Leh district magistrate (DM) Santosh Sukhadeve on Friday ordered the imposition of section 144 CrPC on 7 April and directed that no procession, rally or march should be taken without his prior approval.

He said the Leh senior superintendent of police has reported that there were reliable inputs indicating a possible breach of peace and public tranquillity in the district.

"No one shall use the vehicle-mounted or other loudspeakers without prior approval from the competent authority. No public gathering without prior approval of the competent authority shall be allowed. No one shall make any statements which have the potential to disturb communal harmony and public tranquillity and which may lead to law-and-order problems in the district," the DM's order said.

"All persons shall ensure that they follow the Model Code of Conduct and that all the activities are according to the law," it added.

In a separate order, Ladakh's additional director-general of police S.D. Singh Jamwal ordered the scaling down of internet speed and mobile data services of 3G, 4G and 5G connections and public 5G Wi-Fi facilities to 2G within a 10 km radius of Leh city from 6.00 pm on April 6 for 24 hours.

The DM, in another order, prohibited the posting or sharing such messages that have the potential to disturb communal harmony, peace and tranquillity and may lead to a law-and-order situation in the district.

"It shall be the responsibility of the admins of WhatsApp groups or social media platforms to monitor and filter such content immediately," the order read.

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