The sacred lands in Upper Dzongu that could soon be devastated if infrastructure plans go ahead as planned. Likdem Lepcha is a monk who participated in the hunger strike. He also runs an orphanage for destitute and orphan boys in his small monastery

Each Lepcha village has a bóngthíng (usually male)or a mun (usually female, front and centre) - multi skilled shamans, who are healers, exorcists, nature guardians and are even responsible for guiding the dead to the afterlife.

On June 22, 2007, Dawa Lepcha (above) and Tenzing Lepcha (below, left) started a relay hunger strike to protest 27 large hydro electric projects that were destined to blight the ecology and spiritual home of their tribe and forever change the course of the river Teesta and her tributaries already threatened by receding glaciers. Dawa Lepcha is a prolific filmmaker and activist and one of the unofficial leaders of ACT (Affected Citizens of Teesta - In this photo, he wears the final badge of a hunger striker, the tube that is used by the government to force feed him to prevent death via starvation, which would be construed as suicide by the law. He and Tenzing sat for the longest time in the nearly 20000 hour hunger strike that included whole villages of Lepchas from the Dzongu region.

"The case of Sikkim is an explicit example of contradictions between development on one side and culture, religion and tradition on the other. But more than that, it is a classic example of failure of a development model that is vertical....The environmental and wildlife clearances are totally left on the will and wishes of the private developers who hardly ever take into account the aspirations of the people. Indeed the developmental agenda of the State was highly centralised and lacked participation."
(Giri, Privat. ‘The Anti-dam Movement in Sikkim,’ Published by Sikkim University, 2014)
In the mid 90s, the Lepchas led a movement of peaceful civil agitation, including a hunger strike that halted the Rathong Chu hydroelectric project. On June 22, 2007, Dawa Lepcha and Tenzing Lepcha (leaders of the Affected Citizens of Teesta, ACT), started a relay hunger strike to protest the latest plans to construct hydel power plants. The two Lepcha men sat together for multiple periods, with one stretch lasting 63 days, in a 20,000 hour non-violent protest that included whole villages of Lepchas from North Sikkim of all ages and backgrounds. Their primary concern was the Panan hydel project, which would submerge parts of the sacred Dzongu region, declared a “Lepcha Protected Area” by the King of Sikkim in 1956. Construction on that particular site has since been suspended as it was in the buffer zone of the Kanchendzonga biosphere reserve.  After the strike was called off, many participants spent over 50 days in jail and were dragged back from their remote towns every week for court hearings until a pardon by a sympathetic judge in 2010.
Mountains are blasted and the courses of rivers changed during dam construction and river silt is used for construction in North Sikkim, 2010
Dozens of normal Lepcha people put their lives and work on hold to sit in the relay hunger strike - teens and great grandmas, lawyers and farmers, filmmakers and homestay owners, united by tribe and a desperate need to save a way of life.
The Lepcha people who had to resort to this hunger strike were then hopelessly mired in a foggy bog of red tape, spending over 50 days in jail, and dragged back from their remote outpost towns every week for a court hearing, petty politics and the occasional run in with an intelligence agent. Luckily in 2010. their judge understood that none of them had any mall intent and they were completely pardoned.
Pemkit Lepcha  was one among many people from the village of Passingdang who participated in the hunger strike to protect their environment and homes

An ancient Lepcha shrine in the village of Panang is dedicated to the surrounding elements that give the Lepcha their livelihood

The Lepcha people have been the traditional dwellers of the Dzongu region of Sikkim for centuries. Once hunter gatherers, they evolved into an agrarian mindset borne by necessity. The Lepchas have always worshiped nature in her many hues and forms and have always served as guardians to the Dzongu region’s flora and fauna, while garnering an ancient wealth of knowledge about natural remedies. They are proud but shy, steely but gentle, hard working but relaxed. At this point in their long history they are fighting against the construction of unnecessary hydro electric projects that threaten to obliterate the environment they worship and the lands they farm.
The Teesta river, in full flow, Upper Dzongu, Sikkim
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