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Ladakh: Local Herders Clash With Chinese Soldiers Over Access to Grazing Land

Locals and officials said that the clash took place on January 2 in the Kakjung area of Nyoma village in Chushul Valley, Ladakh, which borders the Tibet region.
A screengrab from a video of the tension between herders and PLA soldiers.

New Delhi: Tension continues to prevail in a remote border region in Ladakh after local herders reportedly pelted stones at a Chinese Army patrolling unit earlier this month, after they were allegedly denied access to their traditional grazing lands.

Locals and officials said that the clash took place on January 2 in Kakjung area of Nyoma village in Chushul Valley of Ladakh, which borders the Tibet region controlled by China.

A group of local herders were intercepted at Patrolling Point 35, 36 and 37 in Dungti village of Nyoma along the border with China by at least a dozen visibly unarmed soldiers of People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who were also accompanied by three armoured vehicles.

A video clip of the clash, which has been verified by The Wire, was shared by Kunsang Namjal, an Instagram user, which shows a herder using a rope as a sling to pelt stones at the incoming PLA vehicles, while the PLA soldiers and other herders purportedly ask him to calm down.

“Why have you come here? Why have you brought your vehicles here,” the herder can be seen shouting at a PLA soldier in Tibetan language, as the siren of one of the PLA armoured vehicles blares in the background.

He continued: “This is our ancestral land. We graze our livestock here.”

The 9-minute, 50-second video shows the PLA soldiers and the herders getting into a heated argument as they come face to face. The video shows one batch of Chinese soldiers, led by an armoured vehicle, pushing the herders and their livestock back.

A PLA soldier can also be seen blocking the camera lens of the herder, who is shooting the incident, even as his fellow soldiers around him continue to film the incident while waving at the herders to move out of the area.

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 armoured vehicle, which visibly escaped the hit.

The Wire has reached out to Deputy Commissioner Leh Santosh Sukhadeva and SSP Leh for their comment about the development. This article will be updated when they respond.

Chushul Councillor Konchok Stanzin, who posted the video on X, formerly Twitter, said that nomads put up a brave face when the PLA soldiers stopped their livestock from grazing. “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.

After the clash, the herders were forced to move out of the area, sparking anger in the nomadic community who depend on the pastures in the highlands of Ladakh for their survival.

This is not the first time Chinese soldiers have turned away nomads from their traditional lands in Ladakh. In the past, there have been several reports of incursion by China with Indian patrols also reportedly losing access to the strategic Depsang Plains, Demchok and other areas in eastern Ladakh.

The opposition led by the Congress has accused the Narendra Modi government of covering up “territorial setbacks” in Ladakh, while the Union government has denied the charges as “politically motivated”.

Last year, a landmark built by the Indian Army at the site of the Rezang La battle of the 1962 Sino-India conflict in Ladakh was dismantled as part of the disengagement process with China, prompting anger in India.

Diplomatic and military level talks on the border dispute between the two countries have failed to make any significant headway in recent years as relations between the two South Asian giants has soured over New Delhi’s growing camaraderie with Washington.

Following the Galwan Valley clashes which brought the two South Asian giants on the brink of a full-blown war in 2020-2021, traditional grazing land has turned into a buffer zone at many places in Ladakh, increasing the difficulties of nomadic herders.

According to the Stimson Centre, a Washington-based online policy platform, the lack of a clear demarcation of the border between India and China and continuing Chinese incursions in Chushul, Chumur, Dungti, Phobrang, and Demchok has adversely affected the life of Changpas, a nomadic community which lives along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.

“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 centre noted in a report in its South Asian Voices journal.

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