ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Unheard Voices of Protest in Sikkim

The Teesta hydel project promises development in the long neglected region of north Sikkim. However, the region's indigenous inhabitants, largely the Lepchas and the Bhutias, along with the Buddhist community, have been engaged in a sustained campaign against the project. Such protests are not merely on grounds of displacement but that the region's cultural and ethnic traditions are rooted in the river Teesta and its environs.

I have just (July) returned from eldwork in Himalayan Sikkim where it is raining hard with the arrival of the monsoons. The Indira bypass in Gangtok was blocked by a huge landslide in the previous few weeks causing trafc jams on the national highway from Gangtok, and the incessant rain triggered major landslides in Sikkim. As the taxi-driver quipped, These landslides are aggravated by the recent construction activity under the able guidance of the NHPC. The Buddhist lamas might pray for divine intervention and protection, yet ecology takes its own course and the river Teesta muddied by soil deposits and whipping boulders looked furious on its way downward from north Sikkim towards north Bengal. I noted how the bulldozers were cutting up mountains and slicing through the hills to construct reser voirs and project colonies, making channels and diverting the course of the once mighty river Teesta into abject submission for generating hydel energy, while labourers toil under rain and sunshine, day and night at these construction sites to earn their daily wage. The environmentalist needs to keep a strict vigilance of this situation. Ironically, though, it is the Tibeto-Burman Lepcha tribals, popularly classied under hunting-gathering forest-dwelling primitive groups, who are waging this battle against the government of Sikkim and the project developers in courts and in villages.

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