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Ladakh needs attention! Climate activist Sonam Wangchuk reach out for help with ‘Fast Unto Death’

Well-known climate activist from Ladakh and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Sonam Wangchuk is on a silent protest through a hunger strike since March 6. His concern is the future of Ladakh and aims to bring the world’s attention towards preserving delicate ecosystem of Ladakh, its distinct culture, and safeguarding the identity and existence of its native population.

Wangchuk is particularly alarmed by the potential exploitation of Ladakh’s valuable resources by industrial and mining interests, which could threaten the region’s pristine environment, its unique heritage, and the livelihood of its people. The high-altitude region boasts a pristine environment, but its rich resources have attracted unwanted attention.

Wangchuk demands inclusion of Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution which grants autonomy to tribal areas in India, empowering local communities with decision-making authority over land, water, and cultural matters.

The activist’s hunger strike, launched at a staggering altitude of 3,500 meters, echoes the fortitude of the Ladakhi people as hundreds gathered in support braving sub-zero temperatures to spend a night in solidarity.

The protest is planned in phases of 21 days each, a deliberate homage to Mahatma Gandhi’s longest hunger strike during India’s independence struggle.

Wangchuk’s message transcends immediate political demands. He advocates for a simpler lifestyle, urging the public to form support groups across India. These groups would champion the cause of Ladakh, promoting sustainable practices and fostering awareness about the threats the region faces.

The Sixth Schedule is crucial for Ladakh. It gives Ladakhis the power to control their own resources and protect their culture.

The region’s way of living, honed over centuries of harsh conditions, should be preserved. The Sixth Schedule allows for self-government, giving Ladakhis a voice in their future.

In a latest post on X, Wangchuk, the Ladakh-based engineer and educator, said, “Happy World Water Day! Beginning the 17th day of my #climatefast. Himalayan glaciers are melting away fast. And our automated artificial glaciers in Ladakh cannot solve this problem. But you can…”

In the video, Wangchuk said the Himalayan glaciers support the lives of two billion people directly or indirectly, which is one-fourth of the population on the planet.

“We here in Ladakh are primary witnesses to the disappearing glaciers in the wake of climate change. In my own life, I have seen glaciers vanish. Glaciers that used to be by the roadside, ones we used to drive over are now hundreds of meters away and above…We have seen them lead to flash floods and droughts alternately.”

“The impact has been so bad that some of us are forced to invent artificial glaciers, including ice stupas…Now, we are embarking on modern automation…Another advance we are making is that we are making ice dams covering the entire valleys so that these help recharge the groundwater, while themselves be the reservoirs of water,” he said.

The educator, who inspired the Bollywood blockbuster ‘3 idiots’, however, lamented that the people of Ladakh are happy about these developments, but they are not at all proud of them.

“Because, these little interventions can’t solve our water problems, melting glaciers. The real solution lies in your hands. You all living in the big cities of the world. If you all live simply, then we in the mountains, may simply live,” he said.

Through his regular video messages Wangchuk’s message is reaching out to the world and people are forwarding the messages in solidarity. There clearly a discourse about Ladakh which needs attention not just as a tourist destination but also which is crying for help for survival.

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