Several thousand people were reported to have joined a march on the Leh polo ground yesterday to protest against a recent incident in Zanskar. It would appear that in the last week of November several members of the Indian Reserve Police force were fishing in the lake at Sani. Deemed sacred, the lake holds a large number of carp-like fish (fish identification is not my strong point) similar I suspect to those in the ponds at Shey. Apparently there was also a violent scuffle but news of this does not seem to have been picked up by the wider J&K media. More on the story can be read here and here on the REACH Ladakh site.
More context on the recent problems in Zanskar can be found here in this Daily Excelsior article. It would appear, perhaps not surprisingly, that politics and not new found religious preferences were at the root cause of resent disturbance. Of course the two are closely entwined in Zanskar but as with many conflicts on the planet religion is a powerful tool when wielded by the hands of politicians and those pursuing power.
There's a growing body of stories on the internet covering the conversion of 6 Buddhist families in Zanskar to Islam, the resulting communal disputes, injured parties, and the imposing of an indefinite curfew. Search engines throw up a number of articles, but for ease of reference here's one, and another.
Buddhist and Muslim relations in Padum have been strained (on and off) for a good few decades. From what I have been told, until relatively recently the communities relied heavily upon a series of well respected lambadars to paper over any mistrust and ill-feeling. As far as I am aware the last widely respected lambadar lost his position around 2005/6. Moreover, in the last six years, tension over land - namely the reported asymmetric granting of government land in Mani Ringmo to the Buddhist community for construction of a new prayer wheel - has helped fuel a rift between the communities. Throw in a healthy dose of geographical isolation, a growing Muslim population and a falling Buddhist birth rate, politically ambitious entrepreneurs, a wealth of financial opportunity and a growing disparity of wealth between households (regardless of religious persuasion) and there is easily enough fuel for the odd riot and ensuing curfew!
I was once told a story that reflects how feelings in Padum can get a little heated. A middle-aged Buddhist resident of Padum recalled as children how the common brown lizard - considered Muslim - was targeted with stones by Buddhist children, likewise Muslim children targeted the lizard with a colourful collar (possibly the male of the same species) that was considered Buddhist.
I have said it before but for a small place Zanskar certainly has more than its fair share of politics. Both Leh and Kargil Districts have struggled with Buddhist/Muslim tension for some time, yet, they have also achieved great things when they have worked together. Lets hope in Padum the communities bury their differences and remember that regardless of religious persuasion they are after all Zanskari.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah visited Zanskar on the 12th September, he announced a raft of development initiatives and updates, targeting J&K State's 'remotest corner'. Amongst the many issues highlighted was a greater impetus in establishing the Panchayat system, something that has stalled in Zanskar since its inception. He also mentioned upgrading health facilities and improving air linkages, although he didn't specify whether this referred to helicopter movement or development of the Ufti plain airstrip.
The mention of an Industrial Training Institute (for vocational technical training) and a Kashmir University campus at Kargil will be welcome news I am sure to families in Zanskar that increasingly are facing the reality of diversifying their livelihoods. Indeed, given the constraints of population growth and limited agricultural expansion it is these opportunities that will provide valuable opportunities for Zanskar's youth.
The CM also updated people on the current 55 Crore works that are upgrading the Kargil-Padum road link, the upkeep of which has been neglected for many years.
Before leaving Omar Abdullah laid a foundation for the 'renovation, preservation and beautification' of Padum's Jamia Masjid, the historic mosque in Padum's old town (not the Iraqi funded structure on the main street) and he inaugurated Padum's Highland Agriculture Research and Extension Centre. The latter will be used to develop drought tolerant and disease resistant crop strains.
For a detailed breakdown reported in the media click here.
Another large gulf in news from Zanskar...
However, several reports this month indicate that the IAF have been busy rescuing tourists from Zanskar. On the 6th August two Czech trekkers got into difficulty river crossing near Testha (Kargyak), one damaged his knee such that an evacuation to Leh was the most sensible solution. A French national was evacuated on the 12th and then on the 15th the Siachen Pioneers - the IAF operating out of Leh - returned to Kargyak Valley, this time to Tantse, to evacuate a British national who was taking part in a medical field trip. Hopefully the parties were well enough to 'enjoy' the flight, surely one of the best helicopter flights in India!