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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

The loneliness of Ladakh

August 20, 2010

By Rinchen DolmaLeh
www.thaindian.com
August 17, 2010

Less than two weeks ago the word ‘Ladakh’ evoked
images of a spectacular wind-swept land of an
unmatched beauty nestling amongst the great
Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges and the
upper Indus River Valley.Equally evocative were
the images of tourists from far corners of the
world seeking out the unique cultural heritage and the

breathtaking trekking trails amidst the nature at
its best. On the night of August 6, everything
changed when the nature’s fury was unleashed as
never before in living memory here.

Cloudburst occurring on an open land, or
mountains will largely invite academic interest.
It will not have the destructive ramifications as
in a populated area, particularly, in an
ecologically fragile zone, of undulating
mountains and rocky terrain like Ladakh.

Here the ensuing mudslides gobbled up everything
in its path, buildings, tress, human beings and
animals leaving a trail of destruction, death in
a region ill-prepared for such a calamity, on a
gentle, warm-hearted people who were looking
forward to yet another tourist season which brings livelihoods and prosperity.

The priority, undoubtedly, is speedy and
appropriate relief and rehabilitation before the
onset of a long and bitter winter in this high
altitude terrain. But it’s a mammoth task.
Equally pertinent, albeit in a reflective sense
is the question of Ladakh’s links within and with
the outside world, not only in times of disaster but in normal times.

We need to ask ourselves, how much does the
average reader or viewer of mass media really
knows about this region besides the stereotypical
images which have suddenly been demolished by the
cloudburst in the wee hours of August 6?

Also how effective or widespread are media links
within the region, knitting people together,
sharing information, views and opinions about the region and the world beyond?

Ladakh’s journey in this Information Age lies
rooted in its history. Its distinct ethnicity and
culture and perhaps the most defining aspect, its
remoteness from the rest of the country,
exacerbated during a time of crisis when the only
two road links via Manali and Srinagar are
disrupted. Since time immemorial, the people of
this region of the country have remained secluded
from the rest of the country. Most of the rural
areas are inaccessible, mountainous, remote and isolated.

There are pockets within Leh district (Ladakh has
two districts, Leh and Kargil), which remain cut
off for six to seven months in a year during
winter when the snow sets in. This remained the
situation till the 1970’s when the region was
opened to tourism which created new and lucrative
sources of income for the local people. But that
was not all. It brought in a plethora of
information and new ideas linking this isolated
mountainous region instantly to the fast-paced progress of the developed world.

Exposure to technology was one thing. Interaction
with perhaps the best and brightest from across
the globe was quite another! Academics,
scientists, writers, artists came to Ladakh in a
different capacity-as tourists and left their
imprint on the region, on the minds and hearts of
people. It was the first ‘opening’ of links ever
since trade routes to Central Asia and Tibet were
closed in early 1960s, following Chinese’ Cultural Revolution.

Some of the visitors got involved with local
issues of social and environmental concern,
organized interest groups, even triggered the
setting up of civil society organizations, local
NGOs. Gradually the public domain in Ladakh grew
making a quantum leap from a secluded, isolated
community to one engaging more and more within
itself and with the outside world. All this
through communication which simply did not exist in this form.

The benefits have been tremendous.

Breaking the barriers of physical and situational
differences and creating a forum for interaction
and exchange of information has been the natural
outcome. Today, around 50,000 tourists return
with various different impressions to share with
others through Internet, blogs multiplying
manifold the horizon of the information on
Ladakh. "Connectivity has brought Leh really into
total churning of the world" says local educationist E S Gergan.

Yet we need to ask ourselves-is this enough?
Which brings us to the home truth of a glaring absence of the print media in

Ladakh. There are no newspapers or magazines
published from this region. The only newspapers
from outside, largely English are flown in every
few days. All news thus turns stale before it
reaches Ladakh. "Over the years communication has
developed rapidly in Ladakh in the form of
Internet, radio, television and mobile technology
but there is great risk of misusing these mediums
that may cause harm to our religious and cultural
views and practices. However, I feel that a
newspaper or magazine published locally would
result in a more transparent flow of
communication," says Dr. Sonam Wangchok, a
leading research scholar in Buddhist Studies.

At a time like this when Ladakh is in the throes
of probably the worst natural calamity in
decades, it may seem far-fetched to talk of the benefits of the print media.

Indeed mediums like the radio and television lend
itself well to knit the people together, provide
relevant even crucial information and updates on
health facilities, road links, missing persons
and relief measures. It is an old adage that the
media plays a critical role in the democratic
process. It fosters an interchange of views,
ideas and opinions on social, educational,
cultural, economic issues which enhanced
participation and awareness, the cornerstone of
democracy. Yet all this is sorely missing in Ladakh.

According to Tsewang Rigzin, former Executive
Councillor (Education) at the Ladakh Hill
Council, presently Councillor Nubra constituency
is in another capacity the "Ladakh is undergoing
a period of transition and a powerful medium of
communication like a local newspaper or magazine
is the need of time." Rigzin is equally a
journalist of repute and currently the

Associate Editor of a monthly magazine ‘Epilogue’ published from Jammu.

According to Charkha Features, it is then time
that Ladakh breaks out of its shell, both to
integrate local communities within its natural
boundaries and beyond to share current news and
perspectives with the rest of the country.

Yes, the immediate need of the hour is to address
the aftermath of the terrible natural calamity
that has shaken this region from its serenity.
But there is a larger message that should not be
missed which is of creating in Ladakh, an
informed and discerning public opinion that would
be pro-active in sifting out its developmental
priorities and taking collective action. (ANI)
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