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Religious conversions in Ladakh: Tracing the crux of the Muslim-Buddhist problem

By Vicky

Tension is simmering in Ladakh over allegations of forcible conversions of Buddhist girls to Islam. The Muslims community has made a counter claim. The Ladakh Buddhist Association has said that their pleas to the government have fallen on deaf ears and they plan to petition the Prime Minister on the issue. With tension simmering the Muslim community too has sought for protection.

Ladakh has seen violent clashes in the past and the LBA had called for a boycott of all Muslims. The same was however lifted later on.

Pic courtesy: lehladakhindia.com

Ladakh forms almost two-thirds of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. It however accounts for just 3 per cent of the population. Communal harmony in this region is crucial as this area borders Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Baltistan and Tibet.

The relations have traditionally been harmonious and there is no record to show that terrorist groups backed by Pakistan have been able to make any major headway into this region. Considering this factor the government will have to step in and sort out this issue. Failure to do so could see terrorist groups make a headway into the region and wreck havoc.

Buddhist-Muslim relations:

Leh and Kargil are the two districts in Ladakh. Both districts have almost an equal population of Buddhists and Muslims. The majority of the population in Kargil are Shia Muslims. While the Sunnis are in minority, the remaining comprise Buddhists in the Zanskar Valley.

The Sunnis were in fact welcomed by the Buddhist kings as they saw the Sunnis play an important role in the economic growth. The Sunnis in the region are descendants of the trader community. The Buddhists and the Shias shared a similar culture. They wore the same dress and almost ate identical food.

For a long time inter-religious marriages were common. In fact in the 17th century, the ruler of Ladakh Jamyang Namgyal married Gyal Khatun, the daughter of Shia ruler Khaplu.

History shows that when Ladakh was invaded by a joint army of Tibet and Mongolians in 1681, the ruler of Ladakh appealed to Mughal emperor Aurangazeb for help. The emperor obliged and inflicted heavy defeat on the Tiber-Mongolian army. In return the Ladakh ruler allotted land in Leh to the Sunni Muslims who built a Mosque.

Kashmiri Muslim colonialism:

Traditionally the relations have been good. However owing to several political changes in recent years, there has been tension seeping in. The Ladakh Buddhist Association declared a boycott of Muslims and it remained in force till 1992.

There were violent clashes during those years which resulted in police firing and loss of several lives. Houses were burnt down on the allegation that people had indulged in forced conversions. Those Buddhists who visited Muslim houses to which their relatives were married were penalised.

Tempers cooled off once the boycott was lifted. However relations were never the same as doubts persisted. The boycott was enforced as the Buddhist groups felt there was a sustained effort at Kashmir Muslim colonialism.


After Jammu and Kashmir had been acceded to India, the Buddhists demanded that Ladakh must bear the same relation to with J&K as did Kashmir with India. However the insecurities among the Buddhists grew even further in 1989 when militancy broke out.

What made matters worse is the demand in Kashmir for complete independence of accession to Pakistan. On the back of their minds was also the fact that the number of Muslims had increased in Kargil and in the coming decades the Buddhists would be in minority.

The LBA then began a struggle demanding a separate constitutional status of a Union Territory for Ladakh. This led to the boycott amidst allegations of forced conversions. The Sunnis had also become dominant in the region as they dominated the economy. However the Buddhists decided to boycott them labelling them as Kashmiri agents.

The government had to intervene in 1992 following which the Leh Autonomous Hill Council, providing the Leh district with considerable internal autonomy was set up.

In the security 2000 the then chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir tabled a resolution in the assembly calling for the restitution of the pre-1953 status of J&K as an autonomous entity with the Union of India. Protests broke out again and LBA sought that Ladakh be declared a union territory.

With the insecurity back, it is an urgent problem that the government would need to address. If the problem continues to linger on, one would witness violent clashes again and this would give fodder to Pakistan.

OneIndia News

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