Sunday, October 27, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Where a quiet “revolution” sits pretty
Hari Jaisingh

LEH: Jammu and Kashmir's most backward region, Ladakh, is witnessing a low-key silent social revolution, especially in and around Leh. There are no beating of drums, signalling new winds of change.

In a way, this revolution lies in the eyes of the beholder. And this is how I felt after the first-ever visit to the rugged land where nature's beauty is both raw and naked, barren and rusty, and yet live and colourful!

The colours of the mountains change every few minutes — from one range to the other, from bright sunny day to starry night and from crimson dawn to golden dusk. In a full moonlit night under a crystal-clear sky, it is "a treat" to read clearly from a book without artificial light.

Purity reigns the atmosphere. The oxygen content in the air is barely 35 per cent of its normal composition on the plains. This makes the process of acclimatisation a must for a visitor. It can be a minimum of two to four days even for the Army personnel.

The quiet social revolution is discernible on two fronts—education and employment generation. The prime mover in both these crucial areas is the Indian Army, the Ladakh Scouts to be exact.

The backwardness of Ladakh is seen to be believed. The main problem is of funds flow. Everything is blocked in Srinagar. The way out of this messy situation is to give Ladakh a Union Territory status. For the present, it is the Ladakh Scouts that symbolises a new dawn for young Ladakhis.

The Ladakh Scouts was raised in June, 1963, by merging 7 and 1 J & K Kashmir Militia battalions. This was a farsighted move. The Ladakhis have proved to be tough fighters in an inhospitable terrain. They can move faster at a stretch than regular jawans. Interestingly, the Ladakhis have larger lungs which help them outmanouvre the opponents. A real lung power, Indeed!

The soldiers in the Ladakh Scouts Regiment have proved to be an asset in successfully countering the raiders and intruders from across the border. Even in the 1971 India-Pakistan war, the Scouts launched a brilliant offensive in the Chalurka area and within 14 days, the local boys could advance 22 km and liberated 804 sq metres.

They were also pioneers at Siachen during "Operation Meghdoot". The unit speedily adapted itself to glacier warfare and they were bestowed honours for their gallantry. The tales of their successes are long and legendary. Encouraged by the success, the Army has now as many as one regimental centre and four battalions.

There is tremendous craving among young Ladakhis to get into the Army. In fact, the Ladakh Scouts is a major source of employment here. And this has made all the difference in the life of the people who are, by and large, Buddhists.

The local boys are fiercely jealous of guarding every inch of their territory. They are very much rooted to the soil—a virtue which makes them an ideal recruit for the Army.

I met the Commandant of the Ladakh Scouts Regimental Centre (LSRC), Col Amarjit Singh, at the regimental headquarters. A young Sikh officer from Chandigarh, Col Amarjit Singh is all praise for the Ladakhi boys who are professionally guided by young Indian Army officers.

The LSRC has a young set of officers drawn from different parts of the country. Since it is a family station, the officers can be seen enjoying breakfast, lunch and dinner with their wives and children every day. This is indeed real freedom from the daily kitchen grind!

However, the young army officers' wives do take keen interest in the welfare activities of jawans. The most remarkable showpiece of the Ladakh Scouts is the Sainik School for local boys and girls. At present, there are 94 girls and 184 boys in the school that follows the CBSE curriculum.

There are separate hostels for boys and girls. Everything, from uniform to footwear, and from dances to sing-song sessions, is taken seriously. Although local dances may be slow-paced, but they are artistic. Melodious singing puts life in the dances! Apart from their regular subjects, they are trained in music, dance and other cultural activities.

The Principal of the Army School, Mrs Singh, has a team of dedicated teachers who guide the students to keep pace with the competitive world outside, of course, without losing or diluting their traditional ethos. I enjoyed meeting the young boys and girls and teachers at a hurriedly organised cultural evening here. It touched my heart. Optimism was very much in the air. In the youthful eyes I could see signs of a new dawn. Yesterday's "backwardness" was on the run!

It is a new rustic world with a difference. There is nothing artificial about it. Nature's raw beauty, the smiling faces of children with reddish cheeks tell a lot. It is a jhuley-jhuley — namaste and loving thanks ringing in the air from the school boys and girls till they mingle in the show-kissed pink here, bluish there mountain peaks! Ladakh's backwardness and the silent grassroots revolution live side by side. Unmindful of each other's existence. A typical Buddhist way of life and thinking!

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