The life of a community begins to end the day its people become silent about things that matter. I am simply trying to break the silence because every time neither the silence is gold nor the speech is silver. Let the echo of the breaking of the silence be reached to the hills and valleys of Ladakh. The surface of the Ladakh is covered with a thin gray layer of democratic fabric. Ladakh being a part of India is also having a democratic form of government at the local level (Ladakh Autonomous Hill development Council Leh and Kargil respectively). In order for Ladakh to achieve its full economic, social and political potential, all of its citizens must have an equal opportunity to participate in the democratic process. As Abraham Lincoln stated that democracy is a form of government by the people, for the people and of the people. But democracy in Ladakh doesn't consider women as people, why? Where are the women representation and their leadership in the local democratic set up (Ladakh Autonomous Hill development Council Leh and Kargil respectively)? It's shocking that women representation in the existing council of both Leh and Kargil absolutely does not exist. Why their role is confine to the election process? Have we forgotten or ignored the women's contributions in all the socio political struggles in Ladakh? For whom are we fighting for the union territory for Ladakh? If we go by the prevailing attitudes and practices of Ladakh's politics it's only the men who would get the real benefits from the union territory. If Ladakh politics could not give due representation to the women in the existing government; what's the guarantee that union territory is not going to marginalized the women.
The representative form of democracy has little meanings unless we make it a participatory one. Democracy is not a spectator sport, Ladakhi women deserved to be an active contributor in the local political democracy. Democracy hardly exists for women in Ladakh; women are still not admitted as full and equal members and citizens in the local government and political set up. In the more than half a century political history of Ladakh after India's independence Ladakh could manage to produce only one women candidate as a member of parliament in the Indian parliament. Point to be noted here is that she was not an ordinary woman; she was the queen of Ladakh. The mileage of being belongs to the royal family could be an important factor. But here our concern is not the privileged minority but the underprivileged majority who are ignored, neglected and alienated from the whole process of democratic functioning of the governance and leadership except their participation during the election period. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Ladakhi political thinkers can no longer ignore the fact that humanity and Ladakh is made up of two sexes, not just MALE species.
"'women in Ladakh have enjoyed that freedom and empowerment for centuries. Today, the status of women in Ladakh seems to be moving backwards'" Yangchan Dolma1, while raising the issue of increasing rape cases in Ladakh. Lack of women participation in the local government makes them more vulnerable for the violations of their rights. There are many women specific issues which can be dealt and understood by women only. Marginalization of women participation in the democratic functioning of the government means that women have no say in shaping the destiny of Ladakh's education, health, infrastructure, economy, culture, language, politics and relations. Can we expect our society to be peaceful and progressive without adequate involvement of women in the policy making body? Is society to be blamed for this misconception that women do not hold important roles in the local government and participate in making important decisions for Ladakh?
I have asked few of university going Ladakhi girls about their views on gender discrimination in Ladakh. Initially they have consensus that gender discrimination is not an issue in Ladakh. They have supported their arguments with the freedom to wear the dresses of their choice, go to the places of their interest, no pardah system etc. May be their understanding of gender discrimination was limited to the layers above the skin. May be they are conditioned to think that everything is fine. Later I have questioned them; "How many Ladakhi women you know who are popular political leaders, religious leaders, village leaders (goba) or sarpanch; of course not successful women government officials?" While stressing on their grey matters they were desperately looking for names, eventually they were helpless to accept that gender discrimination in Ladakh is strategically institutionalized. Looking at the facts, women make up 44.6 percent of the total population in Leh, strange how such a big percentage of population has no representation in the local government body. Even sex ratio in Ladakh is much below the national level its 805 female against 1000 male in Leh where as its 933 female against 1000 males in case of India. The female literacy rate in Leh is very poor compare to the male literacy rate (Female literacy rate is 50.03 percent where as male literacy rate is 71.98) according to the 2001census. These are not mere figures; but are some harsh silent truths.
"Social status of women in Ladakh is better than women of other parts of India. Yet it is difficult to place them equal to men, and definitely not higher. Women in Ladakh can eat, drink, sing and dance together with male counterparts" Phuntsog Dorjay, Pelik2 My dear Phuntsog I do agree with you that women in Ladakh are free to eat, sing, dance with male counterparts but that's not everything. The real freedom in a modern democratic society can be measured by people's participation in the governance and policy making irrespective of sex, religion, caste etc. I don't see Ladakhi women are free in the real sense, as they don't have any say in the policy making. As the council is a male oligarchy.
Ladakhi women's plays a significant traditional role as care givers to children, family, domestic and social affairs. For women, these responsibilities build an awareness of issues concerning human needs such as agriculture, environment, health, education, food supplies, water and sewerage, garbage disposal, and community safety. Ladakhi women are more active in community participation and social gatherings. As large number of Ladakhi men are serving in the army, engaged in tourism, absorbed with monastery affairs as monk. Women are the most active and dynamic but over burdened and neglected as an agent of social change. The daily work of making ends meet, the preoccupation with the health and safety of the family, worrying about those unglamorous details of daily life, are matters that many men simply are not concerned about. Women in Ladakh are more skillful and hard working than men in many respects. Their involvement in the governance of the local government can immensely facilitate to promote the larger interest of Ladakh. The renowned gynecologist Dr Lhadol, Director AIR, Tsering Angmo and Tsering Dolkar, Spalzes Angmo, Judicial Service, Nilza Angmo IAS, Rigzin Wangmo the athlete and many successful Ladakhi women those who have excelled in different fields, they all are lucky because the recruitment is entirely based on merit not on the basis of sex, like local politics. We have many women leaders in the social sectors who have significantly contributed for Ladakh development. Some of the prominent leaders are Sarla Chhewang, President Mahila Mandal, Razia Sultan, Director LEHO, Anay Palmo, President LNA, all the nucleus members of the women alliance and Halena Norberg Hodge, we know that she is not a Ladakhi but the footprints of her contributions and accomplishments can be seen like fortune lines in the palm. While having deep respect for contributions by Ladakhi women I must apologize to those women whose names I could not mention due to space constraints. I was fortunate to work with some of these women and closely observed their level of commitment and understanding of the issues, its worth APPRECIATING with capital letters. In 2003 only three girls from Leh could manage to qualify for the Kashmir Administrative Service Examination, it also proves that Ladakhi women have got the aptitude for a good administrator and manager. The perfection of their performances and achievements need to be considered to break the male stereotyped attitude for marginalizing women from participating in the local government and political leadership. In a survey conducted by Ladags Melong (September 2004 issue) among the young people of Ladakh, it was found that only 41 percent were satisfied with politician's performance. It means categorically we can say that only 41 percent were satisfied with male politician's performances because the democracy in Ladakh has marginalized the women participation.
What does it mean? It means we should not just sit back and alienate women's participation in the governance and political leadership who also have fought hard for political autonomy for Ladakh at every stage? We need to realize that this is 'the dawn of a new century' and the role of the female should indeed be reevaluated. The constitutional protection of one third representation to women in the Panchayati Raj institutions under the 73rd and 74th amendment to the Indian Constitution was a land mark steps taken by the Indian parliament to make the representative democracy a participatory one. The demand for 33 percent reservation was based on the research conducted in the United States in the 1970s, on women participation in business, which showed that 30 percent representation by minorities could significantly influence the majority verdict. Drude Dehlerup of the University of Stockholm extended these findings to women reservation in politics. She observed that while quotas are necessary to jump start the process of equality, the demand for quotas is a manifestation of growing impatience with unequal political and social citizenship3. I think it takes a lot of courage to release something seemingly secure and to accept the new. As there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful and relevant. Seeing the serious need of women participation in the local government in Ladakh I strongly propose and appeal for similar representation in the council's body by introducing an amendment in the existing constitution of the council. The civil societies, women's groups, local LIBERAL political parties and concerned individuals should lobby for bringing such an amendment in the existing constitution of the council in order to make our democracy a democratic in the real sense.