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Ladakh: China's PLA Imposes Restrictions on Where Tribal People Can Graze Livestock

Herdsmen involved in the January 2 clash with the PLA have been reportedly ordered by PLA soldiers to keep their livestock away from some parts of Kakjung Valley.
Animals grazing in the border areas of eastern Ladakh. Photo: X/@kstanzinladakh

New Delhi: The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has imposed restrictions on the highlands in the Kakjung area of Ladakh which have been traditionally used by the tribal people for grazing their livestock.

The disclosure comes days after Ladakhi tribesmen and the Chinese army personnel clashed at Patrolling Point 35, 36 and 37 in Kakjung area of Chushul sector, which has seen increasing tensions following the 2020 Galwan Valley clash.

Ishey Spalzang, the in-charge councillor of Nyoma constituency of Ladakh where the clash took place on January 2, said that the herdsmen involved in the clash have been reportedly ordered by PLA soldiers to keep their livestock away from some parts of Kakjung Valley.

“The Chinese forces have pushed the boundary further downwards and the herdsmen have been asked not to venture into the areas which were traditionally used as a grazing ground. They (PLA) are claiming the area as their own,” Spalzang told The Wire.

He continued, “What do animals know about the border when there is no fence! The area is very close to the Line of Actual Control. We have asked the administration to raise the issue with the PLA so that our herdsmen can continue grazing their livestock there.”

Sources said that a meeting was held by the Army and Ladakh’s civil administration on January 13 where the face-off between the herdsmen and Chinese forces was discussed and several security measures were proposed for ensuring that the herdsmen don’t lose access to their traditional pastures.

“The herdsmen have been assured that the Army and Indo-Tibetan Police Force personnel will accompany them and provide them protection in case such incidents happen in the future. The administration is committed to protecting livelihoods,” sources said.

While the Army has not officially reacted to the clash in Kakjung, its Ladakh-based Fire and Fury Corps shared on Twitter a few adulatory posts of Konchok Stanzin, councillor of Ladakh’s Chushul constituency, who lauded the Army for facilitating herdsmen in the highlands of Ladakh.

The Fire and Fury Corps also shared a video post of Stanzin which showed a shepherd saluting the cameraperson while expressing gratitude to the Indian Army. “We are getting all the help from the Indian Army. Thank you Indian Army. Bharat Mata Ki Jai,” Tashi Namgail, the shepherd, is heard saying in the 17-second video.

The opposition has cornered the Union government on the clash in Kakjung, with senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh stating that it “exposed the hollowness” of the Narendra Modi government which has been allegedly complicit in attempting to “cover up the worst territorial setback in six decades for India”.

“Shot in January 2024, the video shows PLA troops accompanied by an armoured vehicle harassing and blocking shepherds’ access to grazing areas near Patrolling Points 35 and 36 in the Chushul sector that lie well within India’s claim line. Indian authorities have reportedly asked the shepherds not to return to the area,” he said in a statement.

According to official data, Ladakh has a population of 5.69 lakh goats and sheep, most of whom are raised on the pastures in the highlands of the arid desert region. These includes the famed Changthangi goats whose wool is processed to make the famed Kashmiri Pashmina shawl.

Nyoma councillor Spalzang said that the Kakjung area hosts about 70,000 goats and sheep for two months during the grazing period, which starts in November or December, after which the tribal families associated with the trade start their downward migration towards the areas in the plains of Ladakh.

“A similar incident had happened earlier also in Kakjung Valley. At that time, the administration had facilitated the tribal families by setting up two stone shelters,” he said, adding that the Chinese forces have been raising objections to these structures. “These restrictions directly impact the livelihoods of herdsmen,” Spalzang added.

The incident in Kakjung took place at a time when the border talks between the two South Asian giants have failed to make any significant breakthrough. Indo-China bilateral relations are on a downward spiral as New Delhi’s proximity with Washington continues to grow.

Following the deadly Galwan Valley clashes in Ladakh in 2020, India and China have been holding bilateral talks at the military level to resolve the dispute along the tense border. In his statement, the Congress leader Ramesh alleged that Chinese troops “continue to deny Indian patrols access to the strategic Depsang Plains, Demchok and other areas in eastern Ladakh”.

“China continues to deny us access to 2,000 square km despite 18 rounds of military talks,” Ramesh said.

In 2022, Chinese forces objected to the presence of Ladakhi herdsmen at the Demchok sector within India’s perception of the LAC, which was followed by meetings between the commanders of the two armies.

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