Leh Muslims Rue Political Discrimination

8 November 2009
Rising Kashmir
Shabir Dar

Leh: Even as the formation of Hill Development Council gave considerable autonomy to Leh, Muslims in this Buddhist-dominated district, particularly those of Kashmiri origin, are complaining of political discrimination. The community members allege that ever since former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed gave absolute powers to LADHC, Kargil and Leh, these were misused by the majority community in Leh. They maintained they are being left out of the new administrative system, while Shia Muslims are preferred over them. “We are politically discriminated against and Muslims are not being encouraged to be part of the council,” said Abdul Gani Sheikh, a prominent literary figure of Leh, who is also the executive member of Anjuman Moin-ul-Islam, an organisation of Muslims in Leh. Sheikh was seconded by other members of the Anjuman, saying that the Government of India, 'as part of a clever policy', prevents a Sunni Muslim from becoming an executive counsellor in LAHDC Leh. “Government is doing things in Leh as per its agenda and nominating councilors at will. The government says that minority executive counsellor should be from the principal minority community, which for them is the Shia sect,” Sheikh added. He rued that Sunni Muslims were being totally neglected. “That is why we have no Muslim constituency in Leh. The council was formed in such a way that Muslim pockets could not form a constituency. Muslims were never taken into confidence at the time of formation of constituencies.” He said the Muslim votebank in Leh town was over 15,000, but no Muslim constituency in place. “At certain places, the majority community formed constituencies of only 50 families.” Another Muslim, wishing anonymity, said discrimination against the Muslims was actually part of the cultural onslaught, spearheaded by the rightwing group, Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA). “LBA is primarily responsible for pitching Muslims and Buddhists at opposite ends of an ever-widening divide,” he said. Along with LBA, Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF), is believed to be at the centre of the Buddhist discourse in Leh. Over the years, these two organisations have blackmailed successive state governments by enforcing a socio-economic boycott of Muslim minorities in Leh. “The efforts now are to use authority to marginalise us (Muslims) in political as well as administrative realms,” he said. Mohammad Ayoub, another member of the Muslim organization, said that Buddhists and Muslims in Ladakh have lived peacefully for centuries by sharing language, culture and kinship. He pointed out that inter-marriage between Buddhists and Muslims was never an issue in recent past and maintained that no communal riots took place till 1989. “But in 1989, the first outbreak of communal violence in Leh led to a social boycott of Muslims by the Buddhist community for over six months. This was for the first time that differences arose between Muslims and Buddhists, which continued till 1992. During this time, the houses of Muslims were burnt and 27 forcible conversions took place. The reason for the communal violence was inter-community marriage,” Ayoub said. The second wave of communal riots, he said, hit Leh in 2006, with the desecration of the Holy Quran at Bodh Kharbu village. “The Buddhists resorted to social boycott against us, burnt our property, killed and injured our people, but no action was taken against them by the government till date. It went unnoticed.” Ayoub said this communal tension culminated in the formation of the Ladakh Union Territory Front, a political party whose main demand was that Union Territory status be granted to Ladakh. To this demand, government responded with the formation of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh in 1995, that gave Ladakh considerable autonomy, he said. LAHDC Leh, as per the members of Anjuman Moin-ul-Islam, had become more vibrant when revenue powers were given to it by Mufti Sayeed in 2002. “Now the Council has the sole authority of controlling thousands of hectares of Khalsa (state) land in our district. However, the council grossly misused these powers on partisan basis, as it distributed this land among different organisations and individuals, keeping us (Muslims) out,” said Sheikh. Political scientist Gull Mohammad Wani, who too was present at the time this reporter interacted with the Anjuman members, said, “The LAHDC Act passed by the Farooq Abdullah government in 1997 had such provisions, but the devolution was delayed by then NC government. The Mufti government’s move came after two legislators, Nawang Rigzin Jora from Leh and Sonam Wangchuk Narboo from Nubra, were elected unopposed in 2002 elections on the solitary plank of making Ladakh the eighth UT in India. Yet, the allocation of more power to LAHDC did not silence the LUTF, though the legislators later joined Congress, the party that never openly opposed the LUTF demand.” Shekih said that Anjuman’s request to the government to allot a piece of land near Jamia Masjid in Leh for building a commercial complex to generate revenue for the organisation’s activities, was sabotaged by LBA by illegally claiming the same land. “Council allotted the land to LBA in clear violation of the official records and norms,” he said. Yet another member of Anjuman Moin-ul-Islam said, “We (Muslims) were promised another piece of land in Leh, used by the Power Development Department (PDD) for its diesel generators. The orders for the land transfer were issued, but the monks of Spituk Monastery started a campaign laying claim on the same piece of land. They said that the land was donated by one of Leh’s Buddhist leaders for use by PDD and, as such, should be handed back to the monastery in case PDD vacates the land. 'The Deputy Commissioner of Leh also intervened in this case in our favour. But the monastery was reluctant to give up its claim, and the council transferred the land to it.The monastery has earlier taken compensation of the land from PDD.” Muslims, mostly those of Kashmiri origin, are dissatisfied with the working of Council and its partisan land distribution. They said that at Malpak village in Leh, Council allotted a land for construction of a community hall at Ambedkar Park in Leh to Buddhists, leaving aside the Muslims. “After the Malpak residents constructed a shopping complex, LBA youth grabbed the rest of the land and even dismantled the Officer’s club to extend the area under their possession. “Wherever LBA’s youth wing posts its flag, the Council grants that land to the association,” the Muslims said. The Leh Muslims even apprehend another communal onslaught by the majority community, like the past. “Not only this, a cultural onslaught by LBA is snapping all ties, including kinship, between Buddhists and Muslims of Leh. This is happening because the GoI left out the interests of Muslims when it designated Ladakh as tribal area. The excuse was that we have Kashmiri origin, even though we live the same life and face the same hardships as Buddhists do,” the community members maintained. Sheikh even goes to the extent of blaming Kashmiri leaders for the discrimination Muslims in Leh are facing. “Government is adopting appeasement policy towards Buddhists in Leh. Farooq Abdullah visits Leh whenever anything happens to Buddhists, only to gain more Buddhist votes. Mufti Sayeed gave revenue powers to the Council to strengthen his party’s votebank in Leh. But none of them have ever cared about the state of Muslims in Leh,” he complained. “During communal riots, Muslim houses were burnt down and forcible conversions took place. But the atate government overlooked it,” Sheikh rued. He said that for ‘survival purpose’ and to aviod the communal tension Leh Muslims have an agreement with Buddhists over inter-community marriage and sale of meat. Buddhists leaders are also ensuring that their community always remain a majority in Leh. 'For this reason, Buddhists leaders are running a high level campaign asking their community people to produce more children,' Leh Muslims said. But despite political discrimination and tensions of communal riots hovering over, Leh Muslims are contend with developmental works. 'There is no discrimination in developmental works,' Sheikh added. The Leh Muslims and Buddhists also differ in their stand on the Kashmir issue. While Muslims have no problem with Jammu and Kashmir getting independence or autonomy, Buddhists are against all this. 'If there is any solution on Kashmir, no leader from Valley or Jammu can decide our fate. if greater autonomy is given to Kashmir, then the power will come in hands of Kashmiri leaders. And they will not give regional autonomy to otgher regions,' said chief executive councillor of LAHDC, Leh, Chering Dorjey. Sheikh said, 'We will not object if greater autonomy is given to kashmir.'