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'Eroding Culture': Ladakh Admin Criticised for Removing Urdu Requirement From Revenue Dept Jobs

Since much of the region's past revenue records are in Urdu, this change could also lead to an administrative nightmare.

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Srinagar: Despite freezing cold conditions, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led administration is facing the heat in Ladakh after the Lieutenant Governor, R.K. Mathur, made a key amendment to recruitment rules in the union territory.

The amendment has done away with the requirement of knowing Urdu for getting a job in Ladakh’s revenue department, deepening fears among many Ladakhis about the erosion of their cultural history.

In a notification on January 7, Mathur amended the Ladakh Revenue (Subordinate) Service Recruitment Rule, 2021, omitting the criteria of ‘knowledge of Urdu language’ for Naib-Tehsildar and Patwari posts in the revenue department. “For the text in first and the third row of the third column of Schedule-II (B) (of Ladakh Revenue {Subordinate} Service Recruitment Rule, 2021), Substitute ‘Graduation from a Recognized University’,” the notification issued by Pawan Kotwal, principal secretary of Ladakh’s Revenue Department, on behalf of Mathur, said.

According to rules, the qualification required for Level 6E (Naib Tehsildar) and Level 4 (Patwari) jobs in the revenue department was “Graduation with knowledge of Urdu”, which has now been changed to graduation only.

The recruitment rules in the Ladakh’s revenue, police and health and medical education departments were notified on September 8 last year, three months after intense public pressure forced the administration to reserve all the jobs for locals and more than two years after the region was separated from Jammu and Kashmir, and downgraded into a union territory without a legislature.

Hassan Khan, a former deputy commissioner of Kargil, said the revenue records of Kashmir and Ladakh dating back more than a century – since the time of the British civil servant and author Walter Lawrence – have been drafted in Urdu, while Hindi is predominantly used in the revenue records of the Jammu region. “The administration seems to be treating Urdu as a language of aliens. Around 70% of the population in Ladakh can understand Urdu, which is part of our rich culture and heritage,” Khan said.

Sajjad Kargil, a prominent Kargil-based activist who unsuccessfully contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, said the majority of people in Ladakh are Urdu literate, although Ladakhi, a Tibetic language, is the most widely spoken. Besides Hindi and English, Urdu is one of the official languages of Ladakh as well as Jammu and Kashmir. “Most Buddhists can’t comprehend Urdu, although many Buddhists who reside in Kargil and their children can read and write in Urdu as it is prominently taught in schools,” he said.

This is not the first time that Urdu has become an eyesore for the UT administration, which is run directly by the Union home ministry. In June last year, the Ladakh administration launched the Yountab scheme, an initiative of the school education and information technology departments, under which 12,300 students enrolled at government schools, from Class 6 to 12, were given free tablets with pre-loaded content, such as textbooks and video lectures, along with applications for attending online classes.

“While the digital tablets have soft copies of all the textbooks taught in schools, only the Urdu textbook is missing. The latest decision seems to be the continuation of a well-planned assault on Ladakh’s unique cultural history,” Sajjad said.

Also read: ‘Unrepresented’ in Parliament, Ladakh’s Political Forces Unite to Protest Against BJP Govt

In recent years, Ladakh, a Muslim-majority region, has often remained in the news for growing skirmishes between the armies of India and China after the Union government read down Article 370, despite objections by Beijing. Although the Leh region, where Buddhists are in a majority, had for long demanded the status of a union territory, it has now spawned fears of demographic change among the Buddhists as well.

Two prominent groups – People’s Movement for 6th Schedule for Ladakh, dominated by Buddhists, and Kargil Democratic Alliance – that include social and political groups from the Leh and Kargil regions have launched an agitation for the restoration of Ladakh’s statehood. After a symbolic shutdown on December 13, the two groups had threatened to hit the streets if their demands are not met.

Khan, Kargil’s former DC, believes that the decision to omit the knowledge of Urdu as a requirement for vacancies is “aimed at creating ideological division” between the Leh district and Muslim-majority Kargil. “The LG has been sent by New Delhi and he feels he is unaccountable to people. They want to disempower the Muslims.”

“It is a brazenly communal move but it will not yield any political benefit. Instead, there will be more administrative issues,” Khan added.

Asgar Ali Karbalai, the working president of the Pradesh Congress Committee, Ladakh, also believes that the decision to omit the Urdu requirement by the revenue department is aimed at creating a rift between Buddhists and Muslims in Ladakh.

“Since Ladakh was separated from J&K, people have realised that the decision has hurt our interests. All political, social and religious groups have come together to seek safeguards for protecting the interests of Ladakh. This does not suit the BJP administration, due of which they want to divide the people,” he said.

Asked about the latest decision on Urdu, Karbalai, who was also the chief executive councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil, replied: “They think Urdu is the language of Muslims. It shows their hatred for Muslims.”

Khan, the former deputy commissioner, said the revenue records in Ladakh will have to be translated in coming months and years, as the new appointees will not be able to comprehend the official documents. “The process will take a decade or more and it will be a huge burden on the administration,” he said.

“Ladakh is culturally diverse. Locals understand Balti, Shina, Ladakhi. In Kargil alone, four languages are spoken by locals. This order is an assault on our religious identity and an attempt to dilute the cultural history of Ladakh,” Sajjad, the Kargil-based activist, said.

The fears of “disempowerment of Muslims” have been growing in Ladakh since it was downgraded into a union territory. In the latest row, the administration is facing charges of abusing the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Act to suit the BJP-led administration in Leh district.

Under the Hill Development Act, two governance councils in Leh and Kargil regions are to made up of 30 members each. “The government may nominate not more than four persons from amongst the principal religious minorities and women in the district to be the members of the council,” Section 4 of Chapter II of the Act states.

“‘Principal’ means the biggest minority, which in the case of Leh is Muslims,” explained the president of the Leh Bar Association, Shafi Lassi. “However, the administration has selected three Buddhists and a Shia Muslim to the Leh council which is in complete violation of the Hill Development Act.”

He continued: “The nomination is illegal and it has been challenged in the courts. If the case was heard, it could be quashed,” adding that the case is a “litmus test” for the administration as it has “strengthened the narrative of disempowerment of Muslims” in Ladakh.

Accusing the BJP of depriving the youth of Ladakh of employment opportunities, the National Conference (JKNC) said the LG administration should roll back the “unfortunate” decision. “The anti-Urdu step will affect the direct recruitment of Naib Tehsildar and also recruitment quota of Patwaris in the Union Territory and will also adversely affect the working of Revenue Department where in all the revenue records are in Urdu language,” JKNC’s Ladakh president, Haneefa Jan, said in a statement.

The party also accused BJP’s Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, who represents Ladakh in the Lok Sabha, of disrespecting the Urdu language, “Urdu is a language of peace and love and those who believe in hate cannot understand this language and its beauty,” Jan said. Namgyal could not be reached for a comment.