Ladakhi innovator Sonam Wangchuk on 5-day hunger-strike; claims he was placed under house arrest, police deny

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Leh, Jan 28 (PTI) Sonam Wangchuk, a prominent engineer whose life inspired a character in Bollywood blockbuster "3 Idiots", has claimed that he placed under house arrest at his institute here, a charge denied by the police which said he was only prevented from observing a five-day-long fast at Khardung La top.

The Ladakh-based innovator had announced a five-day long hunger strike at 18,380 feet high Khardung La from January 26 to invite attention of the BJP-led Centre to the demands of the people of Ladakh, including extension of sixth schedule of the Constitution and environmental protection form unchecked industrial and commercial expansion.

Barring BJP, almost all major political parties, social and religious groups and student organisations have come together in both Leh and Kargil districts in support of the demands, including statehood and constitutional safeguards after the region was given a Union Territory status in August 2019 after being carved out of J&K.

"He (Wangchuk) was not given permission by the administration to hold a five-day fast at Khardung La pass as the temperatures fall below minus 40 degrees Celsius there. "It was high risk for him and his followers to move to the place and accordingly, he was requested to observe the fast at his Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL) campus," Senior Superintendent of Police, Leh, P D Nitya said.

She said police intercepted him when he tried to move towards Khardug La pass and requested him to return but he showed resistance and was brought back under lawful action to his institute.

"He has signed a bond and police was deployed as a precautionary measure as he did not cooperate with the police," the officer said.

However, Wangchuk said "he was under house arrest, actually worse than the house arrest at the institute where he had started the five-day fast coinciding the Republic Day." "I have announced a five-day climate fast to save and safeguard the Himalayas, the glaciers, Ladakh and its people under the sixth schedule of Article 244 of the Indian Constitution. I was initially told that the policemen are deployed for my safety and I did not take it otherwise," he said.

On the first day of the hunger strike, Wangchuk said when he joined a prayer meeting at the most sacred Chokhang Vihara temple on the request of the public, he was forcibly taken back by police to HIAL in violation of all rules.

"The system is misusing the police and they have no concern for my safety. They are doing all this for their own safety and want to restrict my voice to the campus only because the UT administration has miserably failed to address the issues and concerns of the people of Ladakh," he said.

In a tweet, Wangchuk also shared the copy of the bond which among other things sought him to undertake that he will not make any comments, statements, public speech, hold or participate in public assemblies or any activity related to the recent events in Leh district since it has the potential of endangering the peace, tranquillity and the law and order in the district for a period of one month.

"CALLING LAWYERS OF THE WORLD!!! The #Ladakh UT administration wants me to sign this bond even when only fasts & prayers r happening(.) Pls advise How right is it, should I silence myself! I don't mind arrest at all #ClimateFast #6thSchedule #LiFE #saveladakh @AmitShah @narendramodi," he wrote.

The SSP denied use of any force against the prominent public figure and also desecration of the religious place.

"Three youth who tried to create a law and order situation at NDA stadium (during a function) were detained and no FIR was registered against them. They were freed," she said.

However, the officer said an FIR was registered against some foreigners who joined the hunger strike with Wangchuk in violation of Visa norms.

Born in Uleytokpo near Alchi of Leh district, 56-year-old Wangchuk, shot to fame when the Bollywood blockbuster hit the screens in 2009.

He has also won Ramon Magsasay award for his community-driven reform of learning systems in remote northern India, thus improving the life opportunities of Ladakhi youth. PTI TAS SKL TDS TDS