Six Years On, 'Social Boycott' of Minority Community in Zanskar Continues

The small Muslim community in Zanskar alleges they’ve been facing a social boycott from the majority Buddhist community since 2012, which has crippled their livelihood.

Srinagar: About 450 kms from Srinagar, the Muslim minority community of about 600 people in Zanskar division of Kargil district, Ladakh region, has been facing a “social boycott” from the majority Buddhist community, which makes up over 95% of the population in the sub-division, for nearly six years. Local people from the minority community alleged that the Zanskar Buddhist Association (ZBA) has enforced this “social boycott” after four Buddhist families, comprising of 22 members, converted to Islam in October 2012.

The families continue to live in Zanskar, practising their new faith, but since then, relations between the two communities have deteriorated. Several meeting called by the local administration over the years have failed to end the social boycott. The majority of the population in Zanskar is Buddhist, with Muslims comprising only 600 of the 14,000 people there.

Local Muslim residents say the four families converted to Islam of ‘their free will without any force’. “The Buddhist association had alleged that they were converted by force, which is not true and those families are still living here and continue to practice their new faith,” said Abdul Aziz, a local resident of Zanskar. “We have been facing a social boycott since then and it continues even today.”

Local Muslims say they’ve suffered economically over the years as the majority Buddhist community in Zanskar refuses to trade with them, even boycotting shops belonging to the Muslim community in the Zanskar town market.

“Several shops runs by Muslims were shut over the years as a result of the continued boycott and the government too has failed to give them compensation to meet their losses,” said Aziz. “The Buddhist association in Zanskar had conveyed to their community to not do business with the Muslim community. Hotels, shops and other small businesses owned by the Muslim community suffered huge losses due to this boycott since 2012.”

Abdul Khaliq Wani, a local businessman from Zanskar, said the social boycott is meant to economically punish the local Muslims.  “When the Dalai Lama visited this region in 2016, he’d talked to the Buddhist community and requested them to end the social boycott and live in peace and harmony with the Muslim minority but even his appeal didn’t have much impact,” said Wani, who is also disappointed with the local administration for not doing enough to mitigate the suffering of the minority community.

“The local administration is not making efforts to end this boycott. Our business is suffering losses and hoteliers and even contractors are not given work in majority populated areas,” he said. “If labourers from the Muslim community go the Buddhist populated areas for work, they are harassed there.”

Wani said local Muslims are also struggling to get shops on rent in Zanskar. “We can’t buy more stock for shops as earlier stock remains largely unsold,” he said, adding that if a shopkeeper from the minority community was earning about 20,000 per month before 2012,  following the boycott, he can hardly make about 5,000 rupees every month.

Deputy commissioner Kargil (DC), Haji Gulzar Hussain, while admitting that a social boycott is on, claimed that the boycott has somewhat eased after the Dalai Lama visited the region and asked the Buddhist community to “maintain peace and brotherhood” and end the boycott. “Today members from both the communities somewhat talk to each other but in the past they would not even talk to each other,” Hussain told The Wire. “The people from the Buddhist community don’t buy any things from the shops belonging to the Muslim community.”

The DC said the local administration tried to hold many meetings with both the communities to reconcile their issues. “We are trying to bring both communities together to end this boycott,” he said. But so far, according to people from the minority community, the local administration has not been successful.

Senior superintendent of police (SSP) Kargil T. Gylapo told a local news agency that the district and police administration had taken up the matter with the Dalai Lama during his last visit to Leh, but the social boycott persisted. “We have been trying to persuade Buddhist leaders to end this socio-economic boycott,” said SSP Kargil.

The president of the Buddhist Association in Zanskar could not be reached for his comments despite repeated attempts. When contacted, Senghey, the vice president of Ladakh Buddhist Association, Zanskar, downplayed the social boycott allegations. “There is no social boycott as such but some of the Buddhists don’t talk to the Muslims due to the earlier issue,” he said, adding that there are no restrictions or directions from the Buddhist association for the social boycott of Muslims in Zanskar. “We hope the relations between the two communities will slowly improve with time.”

“Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had visited here in 2012 when she was in the opposition. The present state government should take this matter seriously and send high level representatives to hear from both sides  and resolve the issues which should not be allowed to be further politicised and communalised as this further divides the two communities,” said Sajad Kargali, a local journalist from Kargil.