Ladakh saw a near-complete shutdown on Saturday as thousands marched on the streets to demand that the region be restored to a state, reported PTI.

The call for the protest – “Leh chalo [march to Leh]” – was jointly given by the Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance. These are two civil society groups that have been advocating for Ladakh’s statehood and its inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, which makes special provisions for administering tribal areas.

On December 4, the two civil society groups held talks with a committee formed by the Centre in New Delhi, where they also demanded job reservations for locals and a parliamentary seat each for the districts of Leh and Kargil. The next round of talks is scheduled for February 19.

On Saturday, commercial activities were suspended even in the remote Zanskar and Nubra Valley regions as both districts observed a shutdown, reported The Wire. Public transport remained largely off-roads. Citizens assembled in large numbers at the Polo Ground in Leh where political leaders and activists elaborated on their demands for Ladakh.

The government had on August 5, 2019, rescinded the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated the state into the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The Union Territories came into existence on October 31, 2018. Ladakh has since been without an elected legislature.

Tribal-dominated areas in Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram are governed under the Sixth Schedule. Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram have three tribal councils each.

Magsaysay Award winner Sonam Wangchuk said that the ministers in the Modi government had promised that Ladakh would be included in the Sixth Schedule after the abrogation of Article 370.

“After these announcements, there is a deafening silence [from the centre],” Wangchuk was quoted as saying by The Wire. “Those who speak of the Sixth Schedule are being subjected to harassment. Now there are lobbies in the mining industry who want to destroy Ladakh. We are only demanding our constitutional rights and we will not rest until it happens.”

Chering Dorjay, a former Jammu and Kashmir minister, said that the shutdown was a “clear message” to the Centre that it should fulfil the demands of the people of Ladakh.

“We are not demanding anything extra-constitutional,” said Dorjay, who resigned from the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2020. “Tribal status is the right of the people of Ladakh. The Centre should respect our sentiments.”

Kargil also saw similar demonstrations in which thousands of people reportedly hit the streets to voice these demands.

Also read: Why a proposed industrial policy is being seen as an assault on rights of Ladakh residents