In October 2006, the Indian army celebrated a long tradition of militarism in Ladakh by reopening the Zorawar Fort, near Leh, with a sight and sound show for tourists—and, presumably, Ladakhis proud of having been conquered in the 1830s. General Zorawar Singh led an army, called the Dogras, from the city of Jammu over the Himalayas in 1834 and into Ladakh. He quickly defeated the hastily raised Ladakhi army and subjected the defenseless kingdom to military rule. After a couple years of rebellions, the Ladakhis gave up and accepted the fact that they were the subjects of Jammu, then later of Jammu and Kashmir, and since 1947, of India.
The fort that the general erected fell into disrepair, but the Indian army restored it to its former glory and reopened it in 2006 with lots of fanfare, as a tribute to the important role of military forces in the history of Ladakh. The myth makers of Zorawar Singh and his military prowess had to ignore the inconvenient facts—that in 1841 he foolishly decided to attack Tibet, but he found the much higher, and colder, conditions in the Chang Tang section of that country to be overwhelming. He suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of a Tibetan army and the glorious general was killed on the battlefield.
But the Indian army holds onto its myths. It is now commemorating Zorawar Singh day every April 13th, in Jammu. The Indian press celebrates the general with a passion. “It was General Zorawar Singh … who with his sword drew the borders in the Himalayas and included Ladakh, Skardu and Baltistan as integral parts of India,” a news article gushed last week. The statement ignores the fact that Baltistan is the name for the northwestern part of Ladakh which is now part of Pakistan.
“The borders of India, which extend beyond the mighty Himalayas, are the imprint of gallantry of the Dogra Army led by their charismatic general, Zorawar Singh.” Units of the Indian army organized the celebration this year as a memorial to the selfless sacrifices and bravery of the general. The leaders of various military organizations laid wreathes at a monument to him. Representatives of an ex-servicemen’s league, organizations of veterans, and civic leaders spoke at the ceremonies.
The grand event “was attended by a large number of army personnel and veterans who flocked from far flung areas to pay homage to this brave son of the country.” The peacefulness that prevails in much of Ladakh, as described by Pirie (2007), is ignored by these purveyors of glorious military history.