Docile even in the face of the loss of a kingdom, could it be that decades later the Bhutia and Lepcha are finding their voice, to try and protect what remains of their precious land?
For the first time in Sikkim´s recent democratic history, the Sikkimese Bhutia-Lepcha have come forward to defend what remains of their original homeland. This sudden awakening of Sikkim´s indigenous population, otherwise renowned for its timidity, was prompted by the construction of a hydro-electric project in the very heart of Sikkim´s most sacred region.
The docile Bhutia-Lepcha have little tradition of protest and tend to shun confrontation even when things turn unpleasant. Even the integration of the kingdom into the Indian Union in 1975 was carried out without much resistance, with Sikkim literally handed over with only one casualty among the Sikkim Guards.
It was to be a full 20 years before Sikkimese lamas would take to the streets of Gangtok, demanding that their land and heritage be protected. On 29 July this year, representatives from 1 all the monasteries of the former kingdom marched through Gangtok, beating drums and cymbals and carrying banners. They were demanding that work on the Rathong Chu hydroelectric project be stopped and the whole exercise be abandoned immediately.
Why were the Bhutia Lepcha, original inhabitants of Sikkim, now representing only 20 percent of Sikkim´s population (which has registered a Nepali majority for over a century), suddenly rising in opposition to a relatively small project of no more than 30 megawatts?
On the one hand, the Rathong Chu project touched a combination of religious, cultural, environmental, political and economic issues, actual and sensitive enough to find some echo in many Sikkimese hearts. On the other hand, the activists´ tactics, history and personality were sufficiently genuine to gain the trust and support of Bhutia-Lepchas, uniting them and prompting them into action.
Why Say No?
The central argument -against the Rathong Chu is based on the cultural and religious significance of the project´s location, which is the area of Yuksum beneath Mount Khang-chendzonga. This is where the first Chogyal was crowned in 1642 AD, leading to Sikkim´s birth as a kingdom. The area, known as Demojong, is the abode of Sikkim´s protective deities, who stand at the core of what is left of the Bhutia-Lepcha´s distinct identity.
Bhutia-Lepchas were offended, as the project would in many ways desanctify the region of Demojong and they thought it unjust that the basic foundation of their history, culture and religion should be sacrificed in the name of ´development´ and for the benefit of others.
One cannot help but notice that all three new sites which have been selected for the construction of large hydroelectric projects in Sikkim (Yuksum, Tashiding and Dzongu) are either located in areas in- habited by Bhutias, Lepchas or Tsongs (Sikkimese Buddhist Limbus), or located near sites which are holy to the Buddhists. There is also resentment against the migration of thousands of outside workers who will come to Yuksum in search of job opportunities once the project is in full swing.
Yuksum is one of the last stretches of land where Bhutia-Lepchas and the Tsongs are still in a majority, and it is feared that the g outsiders will import an alien £ culture, degrade the environment, cut the forests, vandalise the stupas, exploit the ethnic minorities, and eventually build mandirs and mosques next to the stupas.
Although the religious argument is what eventually motivated the Bhutia-Lepcha activists, the project will have serious environmental consequences for one of the richest areas of the world in terms of biodiversity. The project is located near a virgin forest, and part of its catchment area lies within the Khangchendzonga National Park.
Those Who Oppose
The first objection to Rathong Chu was expressed by the Association of Buddhist Monks of Sikkimon 24 July 1994, before work had been started at the dam site. The memorandum submitted then was ignored even as the formalities to start the project were accelerated. In August 1994,three tribal organisations (the Bhutia Lepcha Association, the Tribal Women´s Association, and the Association of Buddhist Monks of Sikkim) submitted a writ petition to the Sikkim High Court. Unfortunately,the court case led nowhere, with hearings delayed and the construction work continuing.
In May 1995, the Concerned Citi-zens of Sikkim (CCS) was formed to fight the project. This group of Bhutia activists started a peaceful protest and a movement to educate, with the in¬tention of getting the project scrapped. They were firm in the belief that the environmental and socio cultural costs of the project would be too high a price to pay for its hypothetical economic benefits.
Sensing that drastic measures were required, the CCS staged a hunger strike in Gangtok demanding that work at the project site be suspended while an independent team of experts reviewed the entire project. CCS member Sonam Paljor Denjongpa, a Sikkimese businessman who had returned from the United States as a lama, fasted for 28 consecutive days. Finally, on 5 July, Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling and Power Minister Yeshe Lachungpa assured Denjongpa that work would indeed be suspended and that “the State Government would constitute a high level committee which will thoroughly ex-amine all the aspects of the project duly taking into consideration the effect of the project over the environment, religion, social and historical sites of the area.”
Unfortunately, three weeks later, work still had not been suspended but was instead intensified, and the state government had yet to appoint mem¬bers to the committee. The Concerned Citizens felt they had been cheated and started preparing the next phase of their movement. Meanwhile, the hunger strike had established the newly-formed CCS and particularly its three core members, Sonam Paljor Denjongpa, Chukie Tobden and Pema Namgyal, as persons who were ready to speak up and take risks in order to defend what remains of Sikkim´s cultural and religious heritage.
All India Radio´s Gangtok station, which is the main source of news for there mote villages of Sikkim, has been broadcasting the developments in the Rathong Chu protest in the Bhutia and Lepcha languages. When the CCS decided that the time had come for the lamas to defend the land, it only took one letter addressed to the 60-odd monasteries of Sikkim for the lamas to descend on Gangtok in large numbers.
The monks were the right group to appeal to, not only because of the religious aspect of the controversy, but because they are one of the only segments of Bhutia-Lepcha society which can still unite and see beyond political and other differences. Sikkimese lamas do not live their lives segregated from society, but are marwould directly affect the deities of Sikkim and provoke disasters in the form of natural calamities, disease and bloodshed.
When a series of accidental deaths took place throughout Sikkim during the hunger strike by Den-jongpa, many were quick to attribute the cause to the hydro-electric project and the dynamiting of the deities´ abode. Fear grew among the local population that anyone actively con¬tributing to the implementation of the project would be the future victims of the deities´ anger.
The Importance of Demojong
For the united action of the lamas to be understood, one must first take a look into some peculiarities of Sikki-mese Buddhism and Sikkimese society. When Buddhism took root in Sikkim in the 17th century, it inte¬grated the original animist religion of the early inhabitants. As a result, all Bhutia-Lepchas worship deities and spirits of the land who reside in the mountains, rocks, caves, trees, lakes and streams. These local deities, who are usually worshipped during harvest offerings, ancestor worship and healing rituals, were also incorporated into Sikkimese Buddhist rites.
Of all the deities of the land, the most important is the mountain god Khangchendzonga. Being “Sikkimese” itself may in fact be defined by the worship of this mountain god. During the old days, the national festival of Pang Lhabsol was a celebration of Dzonga, whose invocation as a national symbol served to create the Sikkimese identity, uniting the territorial deities, the Chogyal, and his people under the Sikkimese flag. Dzonga has other aspects as well. To name a few, he may be worshipped as the owner of the land, as the one who faithfully carries out the orders of Guru Rimpoche, as protector of Sikkim´s nay (sacred locations) and ter (hidden treasures), and as head of all territorial deities and spirits of Sikkim.
The Nay Sol ritual text, which is an offering to Dzonga and the local deities, is the most important indigenous Buddhist ritual performed in the state, in monasteries as well as households. The Nay Sol describes the area of Demojong beneath Mount Khangchendzonga and mentions the abode of Sikkim´s deities in the name of mountains, hilltops, lakes and caves which form a circular area around the Rathong Chu project site.
The plateau of Yuksum is con-sidered to be a Umkhang (house of gods) in the shape of amandala where the protective deities are made offerings to. The nay and ter in and around Yuksum as well as their religious significance are not known to the lay Buddhist public and their locations are considered secret knowledge. Consequently, only certain lamas are capable of understanding the inner, outer and secret meanings of the scriptures, and have access to the nay of Demojong.
The mountain god Khang-chendzonga and his role as a national symbol is only the apex of a pyramid of territorial and ancestral deities who influence all aspects of Sikkimese village life. Only a small percentage of village lamas have had access to Bud¬dhist philosophical teachings, and most serve their communities with a limited understanding of higher forms of Buddhism. Thus, territorial, ancestral and Buddhist deities form a single hierarchy and are propitiated at the same time by lamas and shamans. While this syncretism may well be criticised by outside purists, it has nevertheless evolved as a Sikkimese religious culture rooted deep in the topography and history of the land. It has served to forge a particular form of Buddhism that is unique to Sikkim and its neighbouring areas.
The influx of highly knowledgeable Tibetan lamas and tulkus into Sikkim following China´s takeover of Tibet has had a significant influence on the practice of Buddhism within the .state. Sikkim has no tradition of tulku, and Sikkim´s revered masters of the past have always been enlight¬ened practitioners (Gomchen) who lived in retreat on the top of mountains. The elusive Gomchens of the past, with their secret level of self-realisation and rumoured power, have been replaced by Tibetan rimpoches, who have now become the most respected Buddhist figures in Sikkim.
In the rimpoches efforts to ´purify´ Buddhism, the traditional pat¬terns of learning and practice were changed and a new breed of educated and well-dressed lamas came to the fore, with little, if any, understanding of Sikkim´s territorial and ancestral deities or of how to serve the simple needs of their fellow villagers. These new lamas study in large monastic institutes instead of under village lama-teachers and meditate in centres instead of joining their Gomchen ancestors on the mountains above their villages. They have been segregated and elevated above their community and now look down upon the senior lamas of their own village gompas.
The demonstration in Gangtok thus also served the purpose of re-turning the place of honour to the senior village lamas of Sikkim, so that they may express a wisdom which does not come from books but from the heart, of what they have inherited and what their ancestors have stood for as being purely Sikkimese.
Problems of an Internal Nature
The Bhutia-Lepcha´s timidity and accommodating nature, which have made the hunger strike and the demonstration seem like such departures, may not only be due to their compassionate Buddhist background. They have always lived in a valley of abundance, in lush and under populated forests and jungles. From the end of the last century, when life became more competitive following British dominion and Nepali migra-tion, the expansion of cardamom cash crop farming smoothly carried them through from a subsistence to a mar¬ket economy. Although they had to defend themselves against Gorkha, Bhutanese and British forces at different times in history, there was never any need for the Bhutia-Lepcha to conquer or look beyond their bor¬ders. Rather, their problems have been, and still are, internal in nature.
Sikkim was founded as a multi-ethnic state which from the beginning had a mixed population of Bhutia (Lhori), Lepcha (Menri) and Limbu (Tsong), locally referred to as ´Lho Men Tsong Sum´. The task of uniting Sikkim´s communities and creating a Sikkimese national identity was not an easy one for Sikkim´s Chogyals. While Sikkim´s specific form of Buddhism served as a common symbolic platform to unite its original communities, it was not strong enough to sustain Sikkim´s fragile ethnic cohesiveness against the British divide-and-rule policy, nor the aggressively productive and overwhelming mig¬rant Nepali population.
When Nepali-speakers eventu-ally took over the running of the state, Bhutia-Lepchas had no resistance to offer as they had by then already been fragmented as a community. The first division among the Bhutia-Lepcha is the one which still exists between the kazi (feudal landlords) and their tenant subjects, the bustiwallas of the past. Landlordism was abolished only as late as 1951 and the kazis, many of whom are of mixed Bhutia-Lepcha descent, form a social class of their own who have at times preferred to associate with high-caste Nepalis rather than with non-kazi members of their own ethnic community.
The second division is the one existing between the Bhutia and Lepcha communities themselves. Although they have lived side by side for centuries and do inter-marry, the Bhutia-Lepcha do not always stand together. The Bhutia blame Nepalis for having recently antagonised the Lepcha against them in order to weaken the grouping as an electoral force. Specifically, they claim that this has been achieved by encouraging the migration of Christian Lepchas from West Bengal into Sikkim.
These Christian Lepchas, who generally feel closer to Nepali speakers with whom they have widely in-ter-married, tend to portray the Bhutia as ruthless exploiters who have kept Sikkimese Lepchas under slavery for over three centuries. Although there is some degree of truth in these accusations, Bhutia bustiwallas were not necessarily treated any better by the kazis than were their Lepcha brethren. The reason for the Bhutia´s downfall in this respect is the superiority complex which many have displayed as a “civilised community” which had to educate the “untrustworthy and happy-go-lucky forest dwellers”.
The third division is created by the fact that few Bhutia leaders would consider working under a potential rival. Ever since the Bhutia lost their Chogyal in 1975, they have had a definite problem uniting under a single leader, because it meant elevating one above all the others. As evidence, Sikkim has never had a Bhutia Chief Minister. It would seem that the Bhutia´s trust and the legitimacy to rule may only be inherited by rights of descent or gained through external intervention. Failing these, the Bhutia seem to fee more comfortable with an apparently impartial outsider as head of the state who may give the impress on of fair arbitration between their various factions.
The staggering number of cultural, religious or welfare associations that exist among Bhutias and Lepchas in Sikkim is enough to illustrate the point that any person with an idea and a goal feels it a duty to form a new association rather than join, and come under, an already existing association with similar purposes.
Despite these differences, the Bhutia-Lepcha are beginning to realise that they have more in common than they might have been led to believe and that only by working together can they defend their common interests. However, the idea of uniting is such a foreign concept that they need time to get used to it. Recently, Bhutia-Lepchas have come together on three, separate issues.
Without going into too much detail, one concerned the reservation of 13 seats for the Bhutia-Lepcha in Sikkim´s 32-member Legislative As¬sembly. The provision had been chal¬lenged in the Supreme Court by a Nepali politician. The second was over the “income tax issue”, when New Delhi proposed to introduce central income tax in Sikkim but to exempt the Bhutia-Lepcha community. This created an uproar among the Nepalis, which triggered another one among the Bhutia-Lepcha, which eventually brought down the 14-year-old gov-ernment of Nar Bahadur Bhandari.
The third issue to unite the Bhutia-Lepcha was an ambiguous case over land rights. A wise Chogyal at the beginning of this century had issued Revenue Order Number 1 of 1917 to prevent any other community from acquiring Bhutia-Lepcha land. Now that they only represent 20 percent of the population, there are thousands of Limbus, Gurungs and Tamangs pressing the Indian Government to grant them the status of Scheduled Tribe, which they assume would be sufficient to allow them to acquire protected Bhutia-Lepcha land. These political and economic rights which had been granted by their Chogyals and secured by the Indian Constitution have in a way even protected the Bhutia-Lepcha from themselves, by keeping them united over essential issues.
Yet another issue which may bring the Bhutia-Lepcha even closer is the proposal for Rathong Chu, and a mega-hydroelectric project on the Teesta (phase III, 1200 MW) still in its planning stages. These two projects do not only challenge Bhutia-Lepcha religious rights but also question the delicate matter of protected Bhutia-Lepcha lands. Teesta will bring in thousands of outside workers into the protected area of Dzongu, a Lepcha reservation created by Chogyal Tashi Namgyal in order to protect the vul¬nerable Lepchas of North Sikkim. Non-Lepchas are forbidden to settle in Dzongu and may only enter with permits for seasonal agricultural work. This restriction will have to be lifted if the mega-project is to come up, and the Lepcha would soon lose what is left of their culture and territory.
The Teesta project has been opposed for some five years by the Sikkim Tribal Salvation Council chaired by ex-Minister Athup Lepcha. Over the years, theCouncil has gained widespread support among Lepchas of North Sikkim who are ready to voice their objections but until recently lacked the organisational power to muster quick and effective resistance. The Lepcha from Dzongu who visited the site of the CCS hunger strike in Gangtok, just sat there in silence to observe the hunger striker and were clearly puzzled as to how on earth anyone could stop a project at one end of the state by starving himself and lying down on a camp bed in the middle of Gangtok town. Their techniques had been of a totally different kind: on three occasions, they had chased away the first road workers by rolling boulders down on them.
Since then, the Sikkim Tribal Salvation Council has held an important meeting on 20 August at Mangan, the North District headquarters, where all the panchayats of the district signed a representation opposing the Teesta project. In a significant move, all politicians originally from Dzongu, whatever party they represent, have united against the Teesta project. Now. that Bhutia and Lepcha lamas have also looked beyond their differences and joined hands during the demonstration against Rathbng Chu, closer cooperation between the two communities in opposing Teesta and defending the common interests is more likely.
Thinkers and Pessimists
When the CCS was still debating which form of protest to adopt, they watched a video relating the story of how the Kayapo Indians of the Amazon had successfully opposed the construction of a World Bank-funded hydro-electric dam which would have submerged their territory. The isolated tribe tapped its own social organisational power and myths in order to organise and motivate themselves effectively. After the screening, all CCS members felt immensely depressed as they knew very well that the Bhutia-Lepcha had long lost their power to unite for reasons more recent than the ones discussed above.
First, the affected ethnic minorities are hesitant to voice their objections, even on simple environmental grounds, because they still fear the abuse of power which was rampant in Sikkim until last year. Such were the times that no one could voice his resentment against the state government without fear of violent repression. Although the newly-elected Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) government is encouraging democratic procedures, 15 years under Nar Bahadur Bhandari´s autocratic rule is not likely to be forgotten overnight.
Second, Sikkim is well-known for the high level of corruption which plagues its administration and political parties. Embezzlement of public funds is practised from the highest levels of the government down to the village panchayats, and a widespread culture of corruption has taken root within the state. Over the years, this practice has contributed to the ero sion of any sense of unity and trust among Sikkim´s residents. It has not only widened the gap between the rich and the poor, but has also divided the population of Sikkim along class and ethnic lines and has even managed to divide people of the same ethnic and socio economic background as well as close family members. Elections are fought and won. on the basis of the purchasing power of the political leadership rather than on issues and principles. As a result, anyone who raises an opposing voice is automatically identified as doing so for some hidden financial benefit.
There are very few people in the state who still have any sense of pride and moral obligation towards Sikkim and who would risk their reputation, their job, and their security for a cause. A primary reason behind this state of affairs is that the government is the one major employer in the state. In a landlocked agricultural state with but a handful of small industries, the government employs practically every educated soul, none of whom dares express his opinion for fear of losing his sinecure. As a result there are no independent thinkers, no intellectual circles, and only a few isolated individuals capable of openly analysing and expressing a critical opinion for the benefit of the state´s development.
The Power Department´s inefficiency and great capacity for wasting money has already been exposed with the publication of a “White Paper”, an analysis of the Government of Sikkim´s financial position brought out by the SDF. For the Rathong Chu project alone, the Power Department will eventually receive IRs 200 crores (U$ 65 million) from the Central Government, which is not a loan but a gift from Delhi in an effort to help develop Sikkim´s economy. It is well-known that massive fund allocation from donor agencies opens the door for kickbacks and commissions which then leads to the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few. This system destroys society´s moral and ethical values and encour¬ages corruption, maladministration, injustice and crime.
Some Sikkimese feel that the massive allocation of development funds by the Central Government has gradually turned Sikkim into a wel¬fare state and made beggars out of the state´s population. Under such conditions, Sikkim has bred a host of well-known politicians and administrators who have mastered the art of embezzling public funds and who take pride in getting away with it. The resulting institutionalised corruption has created problems of leadership and has eroded the potential for genuine de-velopment, unity and trust.
Indeed, many Sikkimese have taken a fatalistic attitude and attribute their passivity to the fact that there is no better alternative for the Bhutia-Lepcha under the present conditions. They believe that the ethnic community as a whole has no security or even a chance to survive, and that the only possibility left is to at least try and amass as much wealth as possible for oneself.
While pessimism is thus quite common among the Bhutia-Lepcha, in every heart there remains hope that something can be done. Thus, they have followed the hunger strike, they have seen the demonstration, they have witnessed their own grandfa-thers coming out with banners, and they are now starting to think that perhaps this movement might be genuine and that indeed something could and should be done. Following the demonstration and the screening of the Kayapo documentary, senior Bhutia-Lepcha lamas went back to their villages saying that everyone must agitate. “If the naked Nagas [meaning the Kayapo] can do it, so can we!”
Courts and the Department
As the next step of their campaign; CCS members filed a new writ petition in the Sikkim High Court deman-ding cancellation of the entire project. The protest took a decisive turn after the first hearing on 14 August, when the Sikkim High Court fixed 20 Sep-tember as the date for final disposal of the case. The bench also mentioned that they would award the litigants a stay order should the respondents fail to file their counter-affidavit on time.
The case was argued on behalf of the CCS by eminent Supreme Court lawyer Rajeev Dhavan, whose three-hour argumentation focused on what he called the “avalanche of illegalities” surrounding the hydel project. Dhavan contended that Rathong Chu´s implementation infringed the people´s fundamental right to preserve their religious and cultural identity . Dhavan has been deeply involved in several social and environmental movements across the country. Litigations he has been involved in include Ayodhya and Tehri, and his intervention in the Rathong Chu issue seems to have decisively tilted the balance of the controversy in favour of the CCS.
The Bhutia-Lepchas have now become hopeful that the destruction of Yuksum could perhaps be stopped.
Agencies intending to build a hydro-electric project usually first as¬sess the project against ethical-environmental and socio-cultural criteria. Failing to do this could result in expenclashes over environmental issues and ethnic minority rights. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), New Delhi, has issued a list of safeguard conditions to be implemented along with the preliminary environmental clearance given for projects.
As confirmed by the regional office of the MoEF, the State Power Department has gone ahead with the execution of the work at Ra thong Chu without implementing the great majority of these safeguard conditions and without having obtained the final clearance. Further, the CCS has evidence that the Power Department has submitted false reports to the MoEF in order to obtain the conditional clearance.
For example, the Power Department stated that the area of Yuksum has only three species of birds, while an independent survey carried out in the neighbouring area of Rabdentsi revealed that there are no less than 47 species. It is indeed surprising that one of the richest areas for biodiversity would have fewer bird species than does Calcutta! When seeking clearance, the Department also “forgot” to mention that the catchment area of the project area lies within the Khang-chendzonga National Park, and that Yuksum is a sensitive location from a religious point of view and potentially an important tourist destination.
The Power Department´s mis-take regarding the choice of project site could have been avoided had they initiated a debate with the local population with the aim to select, by gen¬eral consensus, the site with the least damaging consequences. It was in the Department´s interest to have initi-ated the debate since ethical and envi¬ronmental preconditions are highly cost-effective.
Electricity is only needed in Sikkim for household purposes as there is no heavy industry and water pumps are not being used for irrigation. The in-state demand for electricity may easily be met by renovating and upgrading the many existing power houses, the great majority of which are either defunct or not producing to full capacity due to high siltation and poor maintenance. Rehabilitating these power houses and initiating new small projects would protect the environment as well as the way of life of the ethnic minorities, while meeting the energy needs of the state.
If the Rathong Chu project were to be built, Sikkim would forever destroy one of the best areas in the state which could bring in a much higher income, in foreign currency, through well-organised eco-tourism in the Yuksum-Dzongri region. Income through tourism has the potential to benefit all levels of society and also offers fewer incentives for people to indulge in corruption.
Why is the Power Department so eager to start new hydroelectric projects despite their obvious nega-tive consequences for the Sikkimese people? The answer is simple. Money is the only language currently understood in Sikkim and the Rathorig Chu project alone will eventually bring in some U$ 65 million which will be digested through the money-starved bowels of the Power Department. Meanwhile, the Power Secretary´s comments not long ago that the project was “too small a venture to justify such a dialogue” clearly underesti¬mated the depth of feelings it had aroused. His accusations which re¬ferred to the CCS´ concerns as “emotions getting in the way of development” and to the CCS´ activities as being “anti-people” now sound rather out of place and hollow.
The members of CCS say that they are not against development per se, but that they do oppose illegal projects which are not cost-effective and cause irreparable damage to Sikkim´s bio-physical and socio cultural landscape. A good example of the type of projects they do not welcome is the 60 MW hydroelectric dam at Legship below Tashiding. High rimpoches and monks had formally objected to the project in 1988, as the waters would submerge eight stupas which had been built for world peace and prosperity in Sikkim. Unfortunately, the rimpoches did not even receive an acknowledgement of their representation. Instead, as with Rathong Chu and Teesta, people were assured that the project would be successful and was needed for the development of Sikkim. But now, and for the second time, flood waters have washed away the temporary coffer dam of Legship and a bull dozer, causing more than IRs two crore worth of damage.
No to Party Politics
The monks of Sikkim were traditionally consulted on all matters of state relating to religion and were represented at the Palace by a monk body called Lhaday. Even today, Sikkim is the only Indian state where a reli-gious body has been given political recognition. In February 1993, the Supreme Court of India issued a verdict which upheld the validity of the 36th Constitution (amendment) Act 1975, which provided for special provisions in Article 371F of the Constitution to accommodate certain incidents in the evolution of the political institutions of Sikkim.
The verdict upheld the validity of the reservation of one seat in the State Legislative Assembly for the Sangha (Lhaday monk body). Since the Buddhist voice is recognised by the Constitution of India, it would seem the duty of the government to take into consideration what the Sangha has to say about Rathong Chu. Indeed, the Ecclesiastical Department has submitted an adverse report on the project, which the Power Depart-ment has seen fit to ignore.
Religious sentiments need not be disregarded for states to develop. Small and prosperous nations of the world such as Japan and Israel are also among the most religious. The role of Buddhism in Sikkimese society is enormous and extends to all spheres of life, from defining true knowledge to codes of behaviour regulating relations with others and the environment.
Now that some Bhutia-Lepchas have shown that they will not let others destroy the foundation from which such a society has evolved, there is hope that this is only the be¬ginning of a movement which will take on other issues to check the de¬cline of the indigenous community. For its part, the CCS says it is prepared to continue work to help preserve the religious, economic and political rights of the Bhutia-Lepcha, but this will probably happen in a very unconventional manner for Sikkim, since it does not plan to join the local game of party politics.