Leaders of civil society groups demanding statehood for Ladakh have called off their hunger strike that was to begin on Tuesday, after the Centre agreed to discuss their demands, The Hindu reported.

Thupstan Chhewang, a former Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Ladakh, and educationist Sonam Wangchuk had announced an indefinite hunger strike from Tuesday to demand statehood for the Union territory, safeguards under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, separate Lok Sabha seats for Leh and Kargil districts, a recruitment process and a separate Public Service Commission for Ladakh.

The Constitution’s Sixth Schedule guarantees protections to land and a nominal autonomy for the country’s tribal areas. In Ladakh, more than 97% of the population belongs to Scheduled Tribes, while Kargil is a Muslim majority region.

Earlier this month, Ladakh saw a near-complete shutdown as the Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance called for the “Leh chalo [march to Leh]” protest. The two civil society groups have been pushing for Ladakh’s statehood and its inclusion in the Sixth Schedule, among other demands.

On Monday, a Union home ministry committee agreed to discuss the demands of the protesting groups in a meeting on February 24, The Hindu reported.

The Leh Apex Body and the Kargil Democratic Alliance said that a joint sub-committee will be constituted to hold discussions with the Centre.

“All members of the sub-committee are in Delhi and we look forward to fruitful discussions at the next meeting,” they said in a statement on Monday. “In view of this significant development we have decided to drop for the time being our plan to go on hunger strike from tomorrow [Tuesday].”

Wangchuk told PTI that a public gathering will be organised in Leh city on February 26 “to either thank the government for accepting the demands of the people of Ladakh or go for a fast unto death in case the talks fail”.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government had on August 5, 2019 rescinded the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated the state into the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and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.

As Ladakh lost its special status, the autonomy of its powerful hill councils in Leh and Kargil also faded as they felt overlooked by the bureaucracy and the Centre. The hill councils were formed in the Ladakh region in the mid-1990s and early 2000s in response to the recurring demand of the people of the region who felt overlooked by the power centre in Kashmir.

The people in the Union territory have also felt ignored in the decision-making process of what kind of development projects are passed given its sensitive ecosystem.

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