“Sons and Daughters of India”: Ladakh’s
Martijn Van Beek At first glance, there are strong similarities between the situation in Ladakh and that in other parts of India with large "tribal" populations: minority populations, culturally distinct from the dominant, national population, and feeling themselves victims of discrimination, struggle for greater autonomy or outright secession. In September 1989, almost the entire population of the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, comprising the districts of Leh and Kargil, were officially classified as members of eight different Scheduled Tribes (ST).1 This recognition was the result of decades of struggle and lobbying by sections of Ladakh's elite, who sought to secure the material benefits that would come with ST status. Ladakhi political leaders, and particularly the Buddhists among them, have been fighting for secession from Kashmir ever since their region was conquered by Dogra forces in the 1830s. After India's independence this struggle focussed on two specific, and related, goals: ST status and administrative autonomy. In general terms, Indian scholars and activists speak of movements of tribes or adivasis, and increasingly the term indigenous peoples (IP) is used to designate these populations (See, e.g., Béteille 1998; Karlsson 2001; Xaxa 1999). Yet, despite the similarities between such movements and the Ladakhi struggle for "Freedom from Kashmir", there are important differences. For one, the language of tribality, adivasi, or indigeneity is practically absent from local political discourse, although almost everyone in Ladakh possesses an ID that states their hard-won tribal identity. Neither the tribality of identity, nor contemporary Indian discourses on indigenous peoples and adivasis play any role of significance in local selfunderstandings or political strategies of representation in Ladakh today.