- Herders have lost grazing lands and feel unsafe as China and India build up troops and infrastructure in the disputed Himalayan region
- Despite Indian government plans to build bunkers like it has on its Kashmir border, villagers are demanding land and shelter somewhere else
For generations, Gyalson and his family have lived in Chushul in India’s Ladakh region, near the disputed border with China. But the 50-year-old herder, from the Changpa nomadic community, is now considering leaving his home and settling somewhere else as a face-off between troops from both sides continue.
The situation has raised fears among villagers of a full-blown conflict. Both sides went to war in 1962 over their border. “We don’t have access to our grazing lands and it is becoming difficult for us to feed our cattle,”.
The Indian military presence has Chushul, which is around 200km southeast of Leh, the main city in the rugged Himalayan region. Worried residents are now asking the government in New Delhi for help, saying they do not have the resources to leave and resettle elsewhere.
Last month, Konchok Stanzin, an elected councillor from the region, wrote to Om Birla, the speaker of Indian parliament’s Lower House, demanding that people living in the border areas should be given land and shelter somewhere else.
Stanzin said those fears intensified after the government unveiled plans for underground shelter homes, called bunkers, in the villages near the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The community bunkers will be built at a the cost of 500 million rupees (US$6.6 million), “the first time such a step is being taken”.
Indian govt officials said these bunkers would be similar to those built in the border villages of Kashmir where skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani troops are a regular occurrence. There are 18,000 such underground concrete structures, which shield occupants from shelling.
The army has also built more bunkers in the region to meet the needs of additional troops and have been focusing on weaponry, general army stock, and constructing insulated bunkers, as temperatures in the region can dip to as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius.
The villagers in the region, however, say they do not want the bunkers to be built for them. “Instead of building these shelters, people should be given alternate places to live,” said councillor Stanzin. “There is fear among the people because of the tensions.”
The villagers say they are already facing hardships and if things escalate “they will have no option left but to fend for their lives.”
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Herders have lost grazing lands and feel unsafe as China and India build up troops and infrastructure in the disputed Himalayan region.