Who is Sonam Wangchuk, the man who inspired 3 idiots and why is he protesting in the cold temperature of Ladakh?

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Sonam Wangchuk, an innovative engineer, is currently on a five-day climate fast starting January 26 in Ladakh. He previously said that he would sit in a five-day climatic fast at the Khardungla pass, which is at 18,000 feet where the temperature is -40°C. Furthermore, he updated that since the roads to Khardungla are blocked due to heavy snowfall, he is fasting from HIAL. However, he also later clarified that he is under house arrest and that the UT administration has restricted his fasting to the HAIL campus and is not allowed to Khardung La top citing threats on my life etc.

Who is Sonam Wangchuk?

Born in 1966, Sonam Wangchuk is a mechanical engineer and director of the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL). He received the Magsaysay Award in the year 2018. Wangchuk’s personality inspired the fictional character of Phunsukh Wangdu essayed by Aamir Khan in the 2009 film ‘3 Idiots’. The Ladakh-based engineer is known for establishing his innovative school, the Ladakh Student Cultural and Educational Movement (SECMOL), whose campus is solar-powered and does not use fossil fuels for cooking, lighting or heating.

He established SECMOL in 1988 with the aim of supporting the children and youth of Ladakhi and training students who were labeled as failures by the system. In 1994, Wangchuk launched Operation New Hope to introduce reforms to the public school system. He has also been instrumental in designing low-cost solar-heated buildings made of mud to maintain formidable temperatures in Ladakh winters. Ice Stupa has been another pioneering invention to solve the water crisis faced by mountainous regions. In 2021, he also built a solar-heated eco-tent that army personnel can use in extremely cold places like Siachen and the Galwan Valley in the Ladakh region. In November 2022, he was awarded the 7th Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios Award by former Vice President Venkaiah Naidu. The award is given every alternate year in memory of the first metropolitan of the Diocese of Delhi and the renowned philosopher Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios.

Why is he on a climate fast in Ladakh?

On January 23, Wangchuk sent an SOS to Prime Minister Modi. He appealed to the prime minister to take action as “all is not well in Ladakh”.

From a military perspective, Ladakh is essential and played a role in Kargil and other conflicts. Wangchuk expresses his concern about the potential for corporate expansion into the union territory, which is expected to add to the already severe scarcity of resources such as water. Mining and other similar activities can cause glaciers to melt.

In the video, he explained, “Ladakh, also known as the ‘third pole’ of the earth, is dealing with serious problems when it mentions the 6th Program and the protests related to it. To promote full economic development and self-government Decision makers, locals have been calling for Ladakh’s inclusion in Schedule 6. The issue has also been raised earlier in Parliament.”

The constitution requires 50 percent of a region’s population to be tribal for Schedule 6 to apply. Ladakh, with more than 95 percent of its population tribal, was expected to be added soon, it was believed, says Wangchuk in the clip. Arjun Munda, the Minister of Tribal Affairs, has also provided assurances, Wangchuk added.

The people of Ladakh are puzzled why the government that has listened to their 70-year demand for a union region is not paying attention to this demand, Wangchuk said in the 13-minute video.

To tackle problems like climate change, people need to adjust their lifestyles instead of contributing money to the world, Wangchuk previously said. In December, he used recent events in the northern mountainous region, such as flash floods, to demonstrate the effects of climate change, saying that people in the world’s major cities are to blame for these changes.

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