The first thing the people of Kargil tell outsiders is that the Ladakh region is comprised of the two distinct districts of Kargil and Leh. And that Ladakh is not all about monasteries or Buddhist monks, and the majority population is of Muslims. For decades, the two districts have been rivals in a scramble for funds and political power. While Leh always wanted to be separated from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Kargil was opposed to any division. Even as Leh celebrated after being granted a union territory status on 5 August, Kargil protested with a charter of demands, which included the demand for a separate union territory. All the political and religious organisations in Kargil, except the local unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, formed a joint-action committee to fight for this charter.
When I visited Kargil in the last week of October, the situation seemed normal, but there was no internet on mobile phones. People were anxious about 31 October, when Kargil will formally become a part of the Ladakh union territory. The residents of Kargil were unhappy with the way the BJP government at the centre sanctioned various facilities to Leh, and ignored them. They were getting ready for a long struggle to make their voices heard.
Praveen Donthi, a staff writer at The Caravan, spoke with Asgar Ali Karbalai, a Congress leader and a prominent social activist in Kargil, on how the reorganisation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir affected Kargil. Karbalai was a former member of the erstwhile state’s assembly and represented the Kargil constituency. He was also the chairman of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, an autonomous district council, created in 1995, that administers the Ladakh region.
Praveen Donthi: What do you think of Kargil being a part of the new union territory of Ladakh?
Asgar Ali Karbalai: If you look at Leh and Kargil from a racial, cultural and geographical point of view, we have no differences. But Kargil is more connected to Srinagar for trade and commerce, and politically. Not just Kargil, but entire Ladakh. We have never been in favour of UT status for Ladakh. We are against bifurcation or trifurcation or any division of the state, on any basis, be it religious or linguistic or whatever. We suffered the most because of the 1947 partition. More than 7000 families were divided along the LoC [Line of Control]. We know the pain of separation.
We need an equal share in development, but Leh gets everything. We fought hard for Ladakh [as an administrative] division and it was granted in 2019. The majority of Ladakhi people, at 46.4 percent [according to the 2011 census], are Muslims. The Buddhists of Leh feel that they are dominated by Muslims in the J&K state. But Kargilis feel the same discrimination. The state government thinks we are Muslims, but Shias. The centre thinks we are Ladakhis, but Muslims. For instance, till 2002, not even 0.1 percent of the Muslims of Ladakh were recruited in the Ladakh Scouts [an infantry regiment of the Indian Army, which specializes in mountain warfare and recruits from the Ladakhi communities]. After the formation of 14 Corps [formed in 1999, it is responsible for military deployment along Kargil and Leh], Lieutenant General Arjun Rai recruited Muslims for the first time, after the Kargil war. It’s the same with the SSB [Sashastra Seema Bal] and the ITBP [Indo-Tibetan Border Police] as well. They have trained only Buddhist people in villages with mixed population. They openly say that they do not want to train Muslims.