Sonam Wangchuk, a man who transformed Ladakh, Magsaysay Award winner, real-life Phunsuk Wangdoo of 3 idiots, who inspired the whole nation is on the five-day fasting protest. Sonam Wangchuk is a well-known figure in the country who runs the Himalayan Institute for Alternative Ladakh, is a great admirer of PM Modi, and often posts videos supporting the government’s policies. But some of the promises made to the Union Territory have not been fulfilled, which has tempted Wangchuk to go on a five-day fast to remind the government’s promises.
The engineer-turned-mentor has shown his disappointment with Lieutenant General (LG) Manoj Sinha’s policies regarding the environment and fake promises made during local body elections. He was about to fast on the highest motorable pass in India, the Khardungla Pass, but he has alleged the government is not allowing him and kept him under unofficial house arrest.
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Who is Sonam Wangchuk?
Sonam Wangchuk is a mechanical engineer and Director of the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL). He was a recipient of the Magsaysay Award in the year 2018. Wangchuk’s personality inspired the fictional character of Phunsukh Wangdu essayed by Aamir Khan in the 2009 film ‘3 idiots’. The Ladakh-based engineer is known for setting up his innovative school, the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL), whose campus runs on solar energy and uses no fossil fuels for cooking, lighting, or heating.
He started his innovative school in the year 1988 and has been successful in creating innovative techniques to perform various activities within the campus. He has also worked under the UPA-1 Dr. Manmohan Singh-led government as a member of the National Governing Council for Elementary Education in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.
Apart from education, Sonam Wangchuk is also an ardent environmental activist who has received many awards due to his contribution to the environment. He was awarded the Global Award for Sustainable Agriculture and State Award for Outstanding Environmentalist by the J&K government in the year 2017.
Why is Sonam Wangchuk fasting?
On January 23, 2023, Sonam Wangchuk sent a letter (or SOS) where he mentioned that everything was not well in Ladakh. He appealed to PM Modi to intervene and allow the 6th schedule of the Indian constitution to be given to the Union Territory as this was promised during the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council elections. The 6th schedule empowered the administration of tribal areas to safeguard the rights of the tribal population.
The tussle between the local leaders and the government was prominent since the formation of the committee to look at further development after the abolition of the 370 and 35A articles from the constitution. The government hesitated to include the 6th schedule in the whole of UT because this law only could be covered in a small area or tribal populated area. There are 10 areas that have been included in the 6th schedule and most of them are included in the North Eastern regions of the country.
According to Wangchuk and other local leaders, there was the exclusion of statehood and also the devoid of the 6th schedule due to which business investment from all parts of the country, industrial development, mining, demography changes, etc can become possible. And all these development will lead to the degradation of the environment of Ladakh as a whole because it is an eco-sensitive region where if more manipulations are done the glaciers will melt thoroughly and there will be a shortage of water.
The 6th schedule demand and environmental concern have been the prime cause of this protest. Apart from the protest, the state administration also unofficially arrested (house arrest) the leader. He was asked to sign a Bond where it was mentioned to restrict his movement outside his premises and also keep quiet.
As per the bond document provided by the administration, these activities have the potential to endanger peace and tranquility in the district. “That I undertake that I will not make any comment(s) or issue statements(s) or make a public speech(s) hold or participate in any public assembly(s)/ any activity related to recent events in Leh district, at the present times, since it has the potential of endangering the peace and tranquility and law and order in the district or any part thereof for a period of one month (sic),” reads the bond, shared by Sonam Wangchuk on his Twitter handle.
Sonam Wangchuk has appealed to everyone to join his protest. As he is an inspiration to many, he is able to attract many of his followers through his social media account. Next what sort of action the government will take, will be interesting to see.
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