Taxi Mafia attacks private cars returning from Ladakh
I have an unfortunate first-hand experience to share. We have just returned from our Leh Ladakh trip yesterday.
We traveled in our own brand new Fortuner with a convoy of 15 vehicles which also had two self-drive rental vehicles. Unaware of the goings on and the extent to which these taxi union people could go to, all 15 vehicles did the local sightseeing circuit. On our way back from Pangong Lake, the two self-drive vehicles were stopped. Their windows were smashed, a huge stone was smashed onto the bonnet and iron rods were used to pierce the bodywork. We were the last car in the convoy and did not see any of this happening.
We sensed something was amiss when we reached the spot and having no other option, we carried on calmly through the crowd gathered on both sides. Unfortunately, there was a jam at the Karu roundabout and two of our cars stopped. I saw the crowd running towards us in the rear view mirror and we managed to escape as soon as one of them kicked our rear bumper.
The other car ahead of us was not as lucky and had their rear windscreen smashed. They however managed to reverse and escape. We then regrouped further ahead and decided to take our stickers off. This way the convoy vehicles would not stand out from regular traffic. We then proceeded to Leh via the Leh-Manali road. Unknown to us, the Karu taxi people had phoned ahead and laid a trap on the road leading to the main Leh roundabout. The spot was well chosen, as they had caused a traffic jam and the central divider was too high for a vehicle to climb over.
One by one, ALL our private vehicles were stoned and attacked. They paid no regard to occupants of the vehicle and huge stones were hurled at private vehicles. Three in our convoy sustained minor injuries. We were fortunate that no-one was seriously hurt. We had to nearly ram our way through the crowd. Fortunately they parted and we were able to escape. A policeman was standing in front of the crowd and gesturing for us to stop rather than controlling the crowd.
We were discouraged from registering an FIR and did not see any concrete action being taken against the offenders. We had to leave Leh the a day later under police escort. Even otherwise, all through the route, the taxi drivers were tail-gating us and coming onto our side of the road, just to cause an accident and to instigate us into getting into a tussle with them. This has been a truly harrowing experience that we will never forget. I would advise extreme caution when travelling to Leh in the near future even if going by private vehicle. Please do not even consider taking a self-drive rental to this part of the country under the present circumstances.
Other facts and details about the attack
A few cars from the convoy had not reached the mob when the first few were attacked. So as soon as we escaped the mob, we called the rest to warn them of the danger. The rest of the cars then took shelter in an army camp and some at the police station. The police stressed on the fact that the IPC did not apply in Ladakh and they followed RPC (Ranbir Penal Code). They threatened our group that they had the power under RPC to arrest them if they wanted. They only accepted a ‘general’ FIR- essentially a written statement from us. They further warned that for a ‘proper’ FIR they would impound the vehicles involved and then it would be a matter of court dates and releasing the vehicles on ‘superdari’.
The ITBP refused to help flat out. This was immediately after the incident when some from our group were seeking protection.
The Military Police were very helpful the next day and organised car workshops to be opened on the next day which happened to be a Sunday. We were able to replace some of the broken windscreens this way.
There is infact a video from a dashcam installed on the self-drive Fortuner, which was from the first attack at Karu. I shall endeavour to source this and post it too.
The owner of the hotel we stayed at shared the following background data: Leh’s population is 30000. There are 10000 taxis in Leh, so one- third of the population owns taxis and it constitutes a sizeable number of the population. Every year, in the tourist season, 300000 tourists visit Leh. That equates to 250 tourists a day. And the number of cabs to be filled a day is 10000. Thus they are sometimes unable to make their loan payments at times. Interestingly, the local SHO also owns 3 taxis, so it’s in his interest not to allow self-drive rentals!
The mob spared no-one. Two Thars in our convoy were driven by ladies, and both vehicles were attacked by iron rods. They even tried to pull out the passenger from one Thar after breaking his window with a stone and hitting him on the upper arm. Fortunately the door lock knob broke and they were unable to open the door. They then sped away from the scene.
We have brought with us the stone that smashed our Fortuner’s rear window, it landed inches from my aged mother on the rear seat behind the driver. I will share a picture of this.
We understand that local taxi operators depend on tourists for their daily earnings and self-driven rental vehicles affect their business to a certain extent. But this does not give them any right to threaten the tourists opting for better, well-maintained self driven rentals or their personal cars. People have a right to opt for vehicles according to their convenience rather than travelling in ill-maintained cabs operated in one of the most treacherous regions of the world. The occupants of the vehicles suffered from immense physical and mental harassment and the Leh-Ladakh Ministry of Tourism should take strict action against culprits for this act of shame that undoubtedly would severely affect the tourism dependent region.