Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Angry notes from the valley of LaDoll

MANN KI BAAT: Padma (centre) in one of her music videos LaDoll

A video on YouTube, over a year old, opens with a card ~ All is NOT well. Then a woman’s voice, urgent and determined, breaks into rapping ~ Ladakh ki mann ki baat sun lo, ay desh waasiyon… Chalo bata dun kya hai Sixth Schedule  do  line  mein…
Padma Ladol, who goes by the name LaDoll on her various social media handles, describes herself as a “conscious rapper”. She sings in Hindi, English and Bhoti, the Ladakhi language. Her YouTube channel has nearly 8,000 subscribers, and her music videos receive hits in thousands. Often referred to as “Ladakh’s first female rapper”, her songs are peppered with words such as Constitution,  loktantra,  awaaz,  vatavaran,  haq,  sangharsh,  suraksha, minus Celsius and, of course, Sonam Wangchuk.
The context in a nutshell ~ the Leh Apex Body (LAB) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) have been demanding statehood, Sixth Schedule status, a dedicated Public Services Commission and 2 parliamentary seats for Ladakh, 1 for Kargil and 1 for Leh. Currently, the Union Territory has only 1 Lok Sabha constituency. Folks from the 2 regions, part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir until August 2019, are up in arms, and LaDoll up in song.
It is 5.30 in the evening, a few days after Wangchuk broke his 21-day fast. The women protesting in succession have just broken theirs and it’s the turn of the youth the next day. The temperature is about -3 °Celsius and the light is beginning to dim. LaDoll, who is in her late 20s, tells her story over a video call from her tent at the strike point in Leh.
“It was in January 2023 that I composed the rap on the Sixth Schedule. I was around the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL), which is where Sonam Sir staged his first climate fast. It has been a long-drawn struggle, although many say the movement is in view of the approaching general elections”, she says. “At HIAL, when I saw him, I felt this urgent need to write a song in protest, that I must convey in my own way this very important message to all in Ladakh, the rest of the country, and beyond.” Recently, she posted a revised version, 6th Schedule 2.0.
LaDoll doesn’t recall exactly when she heard about Wangchuk, but it was through his work at Secmol or Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh. As a child, she had heard that this institution provided all kinds of training and support in extracurricular activities. She says, “Sonam Sir has students in every possible field ~ photography, videography, direction, engineering, journalism. I personally know many who have trained under him.” The whole idea is to go out of the book, do things practically. “You can say he is a scientist, innovator, environmentalist, management expert”, she adds.
When the Hindi film 3 Idiots released in 2009, that was perhaps when many in the rest of India first heard about Sonam Wangchuk up there in the rugged mountains of Ladakh.
“I came to know much later that the film was based on his story”, says LaDoll. The film ~ one of the biggest hits of its time ~ doesn’t seem to have much resonance with the Ladakhis. “Of course, to make a Bollywood film, you have to make it more dramatic, put in interesting bits”, says the rapper, who has a college degree in agricultural science. She works with the Leh-based ICCI Foundation, a CSR for society and community development. “I want to carry on with writing and rapping, be it here or outside Ladakh”, she adds.
LaDoll narrates the crux of the ongoing struggle. “March 4 was the day when the high power committee ~ LAB and KDA ~ went to New Delhi to speak with our Home Minister, demanding the Sixth Schedule. It was denied. Two days later, Sonam Sir began his hunger strike.”
She uses the word “independent media” to talk about the little reporting on the issue. “Mainstream media won’t report this… We have to be our own media”, she says.
The protestors had apprehended that the Pashmina March of April 7 would finally be called off due to Government pressure. The border is over 200 kms from where LaDoll is sitting. It is motorable to a certain extent only. “What is the Government afraid of, really? What is the problem in walking in our own country, through our own land”,” she asks.
The march, as Wangchuk had proposed, was to reveal the plight of the Changpa nomadic tribes who are losing thousands of square kilometres to Chinese incursion in the north and our own corporates in the south.
“Now more people are aware of this, although the Government still sings ‘na kuchh gaya hai na kuchh jayega’. The march would have proven what is what”, LaDoll says firmly.
She talks about the silence of Ladakh’s “own elected representative” on the issue. The person in question is BJP MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal.
At this point, the light inside the tent has dimmed further. LaDoll steps out and the screen lights up with a striking blue. It is a mesmerising sky held in place by a mesh of bare branches. “The trees will sprout leaves in summer”, she assures.
LaDoll says, “Our beautiful but fragile environment should not be compromised in any way. People say there are no jobs here and if there are more industries, we will get jobs. But at what cost? We cannot give Ladakh to industrialists in the name of development. Our population is just around 3 lakh. We can think sustainably. That is why we want the right to decide for ourselves. We won’t let Ladakh become the next Joshimath.”
Before she signs off, she lets out a string of words for the media that is mum about Ladakh. “Haan tum pehle mantriyon ka jashan manalo/Janta ke kafan pe baad me aa jana/Haan tum pehle Ambani ki shadi cover karlo/Insaano ke barbaadi pe baad mein aa jana.”
(Courtesy: TT)