China and India: Border Narratives from Ladakh

30 May, 2013    ·   3960

Zainab Akhter discusses local narratives from Ladakh vis-a-vis the recent Chinese incursion

Zainab Akhter
Zainab Akhter
Research Officer

Chinese incursions in Ladakh are always discussed in context to a threat to national security, given the strategic importance of the region. However, the problems faced by the locals living in border areas such as Demchok, Nyoma, and Chushul rarely enter the national limelight.

This commentary is an attempt to bring out the problems faced by the locals living in these areas. It also tries to look into the propaganda used by the Chinese to win the hearts of the Ladakhis in a well-planned way in these border areas.

Eating Up the Grasslands
The “Changpas”, a nomadic tribe of Ladakh rear their herds and Pashmina goats in the mountains of Ladakh and usually go near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in search of greener grasslands. The Chinese side has grabbed most of the grasslands during the incursions, which are causing problems for these nomadic tribes and their way of life. It has caused a serious loss of livelihood to the nomads, as well as to the people living in remote areas. For them, the only source of income is their grazing land.

They now fear that they might lose the remaining land. Talking about the insecurity of the people of Demchok village, the Sarpanch of Kuyul (Demchok) Nawang Tangey said, “Most of the families have been out of job and their livelihood as they have already lost their land to China army troops”. He fears that if the government of India does not listen to the plight of the people of the border villages, then the day is not far when they either leave the villages and settle in Leh or cross over to China.

Although the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development council (LAHDC) has recently said that they will create new pastures for the villagers and nomads, the process will be long and abundant funds will be required to carry this initiative forward.

Psychological Game
The people in the border areas watch Chinese channels on television, which are telecast in Tibetan language. Further, their mobiles catch Chinese signals better than the ones provided by Indian operators. The most disturbing fact about this process is that the Chinese telecast propaganda through documentaries and short movies about how their country is a better place to live in.

According to the Sarpanch, parallel to the border incursions there has been a parallel cultural invasion by the Chinese in Ladakh and the Changpa nomadic tribe speaks the same language as their counterparts on the other side and share a similar ethnic identity, so the older citizens in the border area fear losing their children to China as a result of this propaganda.

Loopholes at the Border
Since 2010, the responsibility for the border in the Ladakh region is with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). When incursions happen, they wait for orders from the district headquarters in Leh, which in turn waits for directions from the MHA.  Lt.Gen. Arvind Sharma (Retd.) who has served in the region said, “The ITBP is not well trained and equipped as most of the resources for this force remains with the MHA. These forces who are supposed to guard the border are mostly away from their duties.”

According to P. Stobden, a strategic analyst from Ladakh, “There is very little recruitment of the locals in this force and people from the plains have a hard time understanding and surviving the tough terrains of Ladakh. So, if posts for locals are, created in this force in more number, they will be more interested in guarding their own land.”

A force called Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) was created in 1962, and raised in 1963 by the Indian Government, to guard the Sino-India border in Ladakh. It recruited Ladakhi’s in large numbers but unfortunately, this force was disbanded by the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) while they were in power. They were shifted to the Indo-Nepal border.

Commenting on the security system in Ladakh, Stobden said, “It is a sad story that the security is in shambles in Ladakh, half of the fine Ladakh scouts have been reduced to orderlies and they have been shifted to Ambala, Sikkim, and other places to do odd jobs for their bosses”. He further stated that the Chinese plan their incursions in advance, as they do not take any step without deep thinking. They have left their visiting cards in DBO and the use of the term ‘urgency’ by the government of India in reference to the incursions in Ladakh precisely implies that their strategy has worked.

There is hardly any involvement of the RAW and IB in border areas and in the incursions, and therefore it can be also termed an intelligence failure.  According to the Jammu and Kashmir revenue records, there were 110 villages in Ladakh Tehsil. But today, it is less than 90. What happened to those villages and what will happen to the present villages if the policies are not revised and changed?