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Ladakhi school children need mules to carry all their textbooks, according to one prominent scholar, since they are forced to learn Hindi, Urdu, and English as well as Ladakhi starting in first grade.

Professor Siddiq Wahid, interviewed by Ladakh Times on September 15, decried the practice of forcing early immersion of Ladakhi children in foreign languages. He feels strongly that “a child develops best when taught in their mother-tongue and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that, if they can master it, their facility for learning other languages is also enhanced.” Wahid argues that all classroom instruction in Ladakh should be confined to the Ladakhi language until the children are in the fourth or fifth grade, when English and other languages could be introduced.

Recently appointed to the position of Vice Chancellor at the new Islamic Science University in Kashmir, Dr. Wahid has held a variety of academic, scholarly, and professional positions since receiving his PhD from Harvard. His book Ladakh: Between Heaven and Earth, was published in 1981.

Responding to questions by Stanzin Dawa, he decried the growing fragmentation of Ladakh, which he ascribes to what he calls “ballot box politics.” Instead of thinking of themselves as Ladakhis, the people increasingly identify as Muslims or Buddhists, Shia or Sunnis, Kagyda or Gelugpa. This trend has eroded the Ladakhi sense of self-confidence, he feels. But more positively, he maintains that the Ladakhi people have demonstrated a considerable capacity for transparent, efficient self-government, particularly in the Hill Development Councils of Leh and Kargil.

Wahid doesn’t deny the obvious antagonism and mistrust involved with the Muslim/Buddhist conflict in Ladakh, but he hopes that the animosity is ending. As to a future vision for Ladakh that might end the conflict, he feels that the most important goals to focus on are immediate needs. Sound physical infrastructure, good public health services, effective education, and attention to a healthy environment are all priorities. While these issues can be addressed and, in time, achieved, discussions of religious values or political philosophies will not be productive.

Wahid expressed a bias against representative democracy, which he feels cannot really represent the views of the Ladakhi people as well as participatory councils. He also decried gender discrimination in Ladakh: “If we take the unfortunate step of marginalizing women, the impact will be a ‘half-society’ that is less educated, less compassionate and less intelligent.”

The interviewer, Stanzin Dawa, published his own vision for a culture of peace in Ladakh four days later, on Tuesday, September 19, on the website Countercurrents.org. Dawa’s proposal appears to be based on the framework of the eight action points for developing a Culture of Peace, as passed by the United Nations on October 6, 1999 (Actions 9 through 16 of UN Resolution A/53/243). His document effectively modifies the UN framework to fit the Ladakhi context, thereby seeking to bring Ladakh into the worldwide movement to build cultures of peace.

His document, “Strategies for Building a Culture of Peace in Ladakh,” opens with a bold proposal advocating a 33 percent representation for women on governing councils. Significantly expanding on Dr. Wahid’s comment, Dawa says, in part, that “building appropriate democratic structures in Ladakh is crucial in building a culture of peace…,” and providing appropriate representation to women is an essential aspect of democracy. Given the conservative, male-dominated cultures of both Muslim and Buddhist peoples in Ladakh, his argument is bold. Dawa’s other seven strategies are similarly striking.

The proposal does not explicitly acknowledge the existing peaceful cultures that already thrive in some Ladakhi villages. Anthropologist Fernanda Pirie has analyzed, in two different articles published during the past year—one in a scholarly book published by a major academic press and the other in an eminent anthropology journal—the success of Ladakhi villagers in preventing disagreements from escalating into open disputes that could lead to violence. (A third, even more detailed, journal article by Pirie about peacefulness in the small Ladakhi village will be reviewed in this news column next week.)

The Culture of Peace movement, as represented by this commendable proposal by Dawa, would be advanced more effectively if the experiences of peacefulness that already exist within societies such as Ladakh were acknowledged. Be that as it may, Dawa’s document does represent a worthwhile beginning—it should be widely discussed by the Ladakhi people.