The Lepchas have resumed their hunger strike, protesting plans for a huge power dam on the Teesta River that threatens the integrity of their sacred Dzongu Reserve in North Sikkim. Dawa Lepcha, Tenzing Lepcha, and Gebu Lepcha began the strike on Monday last week.
Acting once again under the aegis of the group Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), the hunger strike resumes after a six-month hiatus. They first began protesting the dam last June, but then suspended the strike in August, expecting to have productive talks with the government. From August 21 on, they conducted what they called “relay hunger strikes” to show their continuing opposition to the power projects.
Dawa Lepcha, General Secretary of ACT and one of the hunger strikers the first time around, said last week, “these power projects are a threat to our existence and the Khangchendzonga Bio-sphere Reserve and Khangchendzonga National Park.”
Two days later, last Wednesday, a former minister, Tseten Lepcha, joined the hunger strikers for a symbolic two day protest. Mr. Lepcha said he believes the state government has failed to heed the protests by the people over the past nine months.
“I am joining the hunger strike for 48 hours as I am a member of the Lepcha community,” he stated. He argues that the Dzongu Reserve is a sacred place for the Lepchas, so a power project should not be built there.