Leh: Engineer and innovator Sonam Wangchuk claims he has been placed under house arrest at his institute here, a charge denied by police which says he was only prevented from observing a five-day fast at the top of Khardung La.
The education reformist, who inspired a pivotal character in the Bollywood blockbuster “3 Idiots”, had announced the hunger strike at the 18,380 feet high Khardung La from January 26 to invite the BJP-led Centre’s attention to the demands of the people of Ladakh. These include extension of the sixth schedule of the Constitution and environmental protection form unchecked industrial and commercial expansion.
In a tweet on Saturday, Wangchuk shared a copy of a bond, which among other things sought an undertaking 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.
"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.
He said on social media that he was under house arrest, “actually worse than house arrest”.
"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.
However, police denied his charges.
"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,” said Senior Superintendent of Police, Leh, P D Nitya.
"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," she added.
Police, she said, intercepted him when he tried to move towards Khardug La 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.
Barring the 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 Wangchuk’s demands, including statehood and constitutional safeguards after the region was given union territory status in August 2019.
According to Wangchuk, on the first day of the hunger strike, he joined a prayer meeting at the Chokhang Vihara temple on the request of the public but 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 alleged.
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, 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 Wangchu won the Ramon Magsasay award for his community-driven reform of learning systems in remote northern India, thus improving the life opportunities of Ladakhi youth.