Ladakh Climate Activist Sonam Wangchuk’s “Fast Unto Death” Enters 15th Day

Renowned climate activist Sonam Wangchuk has entered the 15th day of his ‘fast unto death’ protest, which commenced on March 6 in Leh, Ladakh, India. The purpose of his protest is to advocate for constitutional safeguards for Ladakh as a Union Territory and to shield the region from the influence of industrial and mining interests.

Wangchuk, an engineer and educator based in Ladakh, has been steadfast in his demands. He emphasizes the need to protect Ladakh’s delicate ecosystem and preserve its tribal indigenous culture. In a recent statement, he highlighted the sacrifices made by supporters, with 250 individuals enduring hunger in freezing temperatures of -12 °C to underscore their commitment to safeguarding Ladakh’s environment.

Addressing the Indian Government’s obligations, Wangchuk expressed disappointment, stating, “If India denies democratic rights to the people of Ladakh, then it could only be called a Stepmother of Democracy.” He underscores the discrepancy between the government’s promises and its current stance, particularly regarding Ladakh’s inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and the grant of statehood.

The activist’s protest is rooted in his appeals for simpler lifestyles and governmental accountability. He questions the government’s change in stance, noting previous commitments made by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government in their election manifestos.

The ongoing talks between Ladakhi leadership and the Central government regarding Ladakh’s statehood and other demands have yielded no concrete results, prompting Wangchuk’s continued protest. He aims to amplify the voices of Ladakhi people to counter the influence of industrial and mining sectors.

Wangchuk’s concerns extend beyond Ladakh, encompassing broader environmental issues in the Himalayan region. He emphasizes the exploitation of the mountains by industries through dam construction and mining activities. The ‘fast unto death’ will proceed in phases, with each phase lasting 21 days. Wangchuk draws inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance, seeking to evoke government action through self-imposed hardship.

The demand for Ladakh’s inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution is a critical aspect of Wangchuk’s protest. This provision allows for the establishment of autonomous administrative regions, providing legislative, judicial, and administrative autonomy within a state. Currently applicable in northeastern states, Ladakh seeks similar recognition to safeguard its unique identity and ecological integrity.