Buddhists in Ladakh call for end to family planning

By Iftikhar Gilani, Daily Times, jan 16, 2008

NEW DELHI, India -- Fearing a decline in their population, Buddhist groups in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir have called for an immediate halt on family planning programmes in their region.

In a letter to Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) President Dr Sonam Dewa said the Buddhist population in Ladakh, its last sanctuary bordering Tibet, was dwindling fast.

He said Ladakh, commonly known as Little Tibet, was no longer a Buddhist-dominated district. Muslims have surpassed the Buddhist population and Hindu populations have also grown considerably over the past one decade, he added.

Census figures reveal that the Buddhists’ share of the total population in the region has dropped from 53.83 to 45.87 percent over the past four decades, while the Muslim population has increased from 45.43 to 47.40 percent.

The Muslim population in Leh district exhibited a phenomenal growth of 65.40 percent, which even surpassed the overall growth rate of Muslims across Jammu and Kashmir. The Hindu population, non-existent four decades ago, now contributes 6.22 percent of Ladakh’s population.

Family planning prone: Another Buddhist leader MP Thupstan Chewang attributes the decline to family planning campaigns launched by the government. “Unlike Muslims, more Buddhist families opt for family planning. Furthermore, seven percent of males become monks or marry too late after completing their tenures in the army,” he said.

Chewang also believed that the custom of polyandry practiced earlier in the region was the main reason for low birth rates. Monogamy has put the brakes on population growth, he said. “In polyandrous marriages, the norm was that a woman would bear 10 to 13 children. Now, in monogamous marriages a woman bears just two to three kids.”

In Ladakh, which is incidentally the state’s largest region, Buddhist women have a better literacy rate (46.16pc) than Muslim women (35.76pc). Despite a wave of modernity polyandrous marriages are still a custom in some areas due to the scarcity of resources, particularly farmland.