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Ladakh: Faith in numbers

The Buddhist Channel, Jan 20, 2008

Leh, Ladakh (India) -- Buddhists of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir are having trouble making matrimonial choices.

<< Ladakh - a.k.a Little Tibet, says its Buddhist population is fast dwindling due to birth control measures imposed by the government

In a letter to the chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, the president of the Ladakh Buddhist Association, Sonam Dewa, has said that the Buddhist population bordering Tibet is dwindling, while Muslims and Hindus are growing in number.

Buddhists, the law-abiding people that they are, have faithfully followed the government’s family-planning advice where Muslims have not.

According to Buddhist leader Thupstan Chewang, polyandry, the earlier practice in some areas of the region, had to give way to monogamy, bringing down birth rates drastically.

“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.”

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.

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.

A family now has two or three children, as opposed to the 10 or 13 that a polyandrous marriage would result in. Is there a middle path to this problem?

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