Chinese Incursion in Ladakh: Local Perspectives

15 May, 2013    ·   3932

Zainab Akhter discusses the Ladakhis’ perception of the constant state of mistrust between India and China

Zainab Akhter
Zainab Akhter
Research Officer

Although India and China have decided to end the standoff in Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), for the people of the region, the incursions in the border area are not a new occurrence. They have been witness to such activities for a long time now.

This commentary is an attempt to look into what local reactions in Ladakh have been. How do the Ladakhis perceive the constant state of mistrust between India and China, and routine episodes of tensions between the two armies?

The Gyami Come Again
The incursion in Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector has come up exactly nine months after the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forced the Government of Jammu & Kashmir to suspend work on the irrigation scheme at Kuyul-Thuksey area of Nyoma block in 2012. In 2010, the Chinese army forced the state government to suspend work on local bus-stop sheds, which were being constructed near the Sino-Indian Border in Demchok area.

The issue was raised during a meeting called by the District Congress Committee Leh on 2 May 2013, which was attended by members of the LHDC (Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council), including Rigzin Jora, Minister for Urban Development and Urban Local Bodies, Jammu & Kashmir Government. They made a joint statement stating that the incursion by the Chinese in the DBO is to disturb India’s infrastructural developments such as roads, buildings, and airport restoration in the border area of Ladakh.

Whenever there is an effort to undertake developmental work near the border regions of Ladakh, China has always raised its voice in protest. The point worth noting is that the Indian side has, in most of the cases, left the work in between as a result of these protests.

During the stand-off between India and China in the DBO sector, the Government of Jammu & Kashmir issued a statement which maintained that it will not have any impact on the tourism inflow to Ladakh. For the local people in Leh and Kargil, the above statement by the government brings some comfort as the tourist season, which hardly lasts for six months in the summer has just begun and they do not want a cut-off in the tourist inflow, on which most of them are dependent.

For the local tourist guides, the summer is the peak season when they have a chance to compensate the long, harsh winters wherein their earnings are equivalent to nil. These incursions do not mean anything to them until and unless it has repercussions on their business. For them, the Gyami (Chinese in local dialect) have tried to take the Indian soil inch by inch earlier; and now, they are doing so by miles.

Reflections: Reactions to the Incursion
In the past, there had been no public reaction from the youth of the region against incursions by the Chinese in different sectors near the LAC in Ladakh. However, the current incursion was widely debated by the youth on social networking sites, especially on the Facebook page, ‘Ladakh in Media’, which is dedicated to news from across the Ladakh region.

In a protest held outside Jammu University on 23 April 2013, members of Ladakh Students Association shouted slogans against the incursion and urged the government against acting as a "mute spectator”. The student group urged the Centre to take measures to check the aggressive posturing of China, and said that the Ladakhis feel insecure by the repeated incursions. In the same lines, a protest demonstration was also organised by students from the Ladakh region in Macleodganj, Dharamshala, wherein they criticised the government of India for not taking necessary actions to keep the Chinese PLA away from the LAC. Tibetan students taking part in the protest reiterated the fact that they do not want Ladakh to be another Tibet, which is why they appealed to the Indian Government to take action against the incursions.

The youth of the region mostly seem to be critical about the careless attitude of the Government of India, and feel that the force which is recruited to guard the areas near LAC are neither fully trained nor equipped. This sentiment is supported by a part of the resolution made after the District Congress Committee meeting held in Leh. It stated that the people of Ladakh are ready to work along with the Indian army to defend Indian soil; and if required, the LHDC can raise a womens’ Battalion within the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) to do the job.

Nothing New
In the territory south of Demchok near the LAC, there is a well defined international boundary between India and China, but frequent incursions have been seen in the sector in the past. It implies that the incursions have nothing to do with improper demarcation, which was what was stated in the case of the recent incursions in DBO by the Government of India.

The DBO is an isolated area and the closest habitation is 100 Kilometres away, thus inaccessible by civilians. In past incursions, it was observed that the Chinese left behind cigarette packs, noodles etc. in the Indian side, but the tactic of placing tents is said to be used for the first time which supposedly brought the issue into the limelight. For the people of the region, the recent visit of External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid to China may have solved the issue at an international level; but for them, hearing stories of the Gyami entering and leaving the border areas is like a tale told every now and then.