Sunday, March 3, 2024

Ladakh: Local herders and Chinese soldiers clash over grazing land access

Following an alleged incident where local herders threw stones at a Chinese Army patrolling unit earlier this month due to purportedly being denied access to their customary grazing lands, tensions are escalating in a remote Ladakh border region.

Locals and officials reported that the conflict unfolded on January 2 in the Kakjung neighborhood of Nyoma village in the Chushul Valley of Ladakh, bordering the Chinese-controlled part of Tibet.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), supported by three armored vehicles and at least twelve soldiers who were clearly unarmed, intercepted a group of local herders at Patrolling Points 35, 36, and 37 in Dungti village, Nyoma, along the border with China.

Video footage from the altercation purports to show a herder telling the approaching PLA trucks to stop throwing stones at them while being held back by other herders and PLA soldiers.

“Why are you here?” the herder is heard yelling in Tibetan at a PLA soldier, “Why have you brought your vehicles here?” as the siren of one of the PLA’s armored vehicles blares in the distance.

Another PLA soldier is seen blocking the herder’s camera lens as he records the incident; his fellow soldiers are also filming the scene and waving for the herders to leave. Then, a visibly agitated herder, who breaks from the scene, pulls out a sling from beneath his coat, puts a stone in it, and swings it at the incoming armored vehicle, which visibly escapes the hit.

Chushul Councillor Konchok Stanzin, who posted the video on X, said that nomads put up a brave face when PLA soldiers stopped their livestock from grazing. “The livelihoods of locals have been taken away in the name of buffer zones and patrolling points. Our nomads are struggling for their land,” Stanzin told The Wire.

The Nomadic community, depending on the pastures in the Ladakh highlands for their survival, became enraged when herders were forced to leave the area after the dispute.

Chinese forces had already turned away nomads from their customary pastures in Ladakh. There have been several allegations of Chinese incursions, with Indian patrols allegedly losing access to Demchok, the vital Depsang Plains, and other eastern Ladakh locations.

“The conflict and the lack of development in border villages have forced many to flee to the town of Leh, and thus the looming danger of mass migration from the border villages requires timely intervention by the Indian government and an inclusive Ladakh policy,” the center noted in a report in its South Asian Voices journal.

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