New Delhi: Around 3,000 people gathered in minus 10°C temperatures in Kargil’s Sankoo to demand district status for their region on Thursday.
Sankoo is a small picturesque town 40 kilometres south of Kargil, in the Suru river valley.
The new Union Territory of Ladakh, which was created after the unilateral bifurcation of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state and the reading down of Article 370, now has two districts – Leh and Kargil – with about equal population distribution.
Further, Kargil has four sub divisions – Kargil, Zanskar, Sankoo and Shakar-Chiktan. The protesters in Sankoo are demanding that Zanskar and Sankoo be turned into a separate district to allow for better governance.
They argue that the area is remote and several parts are cut off from the district headquarters in Kargil during the heavy snow winter months, making service delivery a complicated challenge for the people of Zanskar and Sankoo.
The protests was organised by an organisation called Youth Sankoo and supported by major religious organisations like Anjuman-e-Sabib Zaman, Anjuman Enqilab-e-Mehdi Suru and Maktab-e-Imam Raza Sankoo and political parties including the Congress and the National Conference.
BJP’s local leadership has hinted that there will be two new districts in Ladakh – Nubra and Zanskar. But, people in Sankoo fear that they might be left out of the new Zanskar district.
Zanskar and Sankoo are 200 kilometres apart in the sparsely populated district of Kargil spread across 14,000 square kilometres. Sankoo has a Muslim majority population, while Zanskar is Buddhist majority.
“We want to make sure that we are a part of Zanskar district and also want to make clear that our movement is not on religious grounds and we are not against the demand of the people of Zanskar as district,” said Ali Waziri, spokesperson of Youth Sankoo.
The protesters also feel that after the relegation of their region to UT status without legislature, the only hope for them to have some representation in matters of governance is to have a district headquarters closer to them and are demanding that Zanskar be declared a district with rotational headquarters between Sankoo and Zanskar.
“The region has been ignored in all sections, therefore it’s a high time that the Union government and UT administration consider the demand of district status for sub-division Sankoo,” Waziri told The Wire.
Sankoo sub-division has a population of 40,000 – which is slightly more than a fourth of Kargil district’s population – according to Census of 2011. The Zanskar sub-division has a population of 13,000.
Protests have brewed in the new UT of Ladakh since August when the state of J&K was bifurcated (read here, here and here). People in Muslim majority Kargil have opposed the bifurcation of the state and have now raised demands for an administrative headquarter in their region too.
Buddhist majority Leh has welcomed the bifurcation of J&K and the creation of Ladakh UT, but have mixed feelings about the reading down of Article 370 and scrapping of Article 35A. Their fears are centred around the loss of protection of land and jobs which the two articles provided.