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Contesting Hydropower Dams in the Eastern Himalaya: The Cultural Politics of Identity, Territory and Self-Governance Institutions in Sikkim, India

  • Wageningen University and CEDLA, University of Amsterdam

Abstract and Figures

In India’s Eastern Himalayan State of Sikkim, the indigenous Bhutia communities, Lachungpas and Lachenpas, successfully contested all proposed hydropower projects and have managed to sustain an anti-dam opposition in their home regions, Lachung and Lachen. In this paper, we discuss this remarkable, un-researched, effective collective action against hydropower development, examining how identity and territory influence collective action through production, creation and application of vernacular knowledge systems. The role of the Dzumsa, a prevailing traditional system of self-governance among the Lachungpas and Lachenpas, has been central in their collective resistance against large dams in Lachung and Lachen. Our findings show that contrary to popular imageries, the Dzumsa is neither an egalitarian nor a democratic institution—rather, it is an exercise of an “agonistic unity”. The Dzumsas operate as complex collectives, which serve to politicize identity, decision-making and place-based territoriality in their struggle against internal and external threats. Principles of a “vernacular statecraft” helped bringing the local communities together in imperfect unions to oppose modernist designs of hydropower development. However, while such vernacular institutions were able to construct a powerful local adversary to neoliberal agendas, they also pose high social, political and emotional risks to the few within the community, who chose not to align with the normative principles of the collective.
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Contesting Hydropower Dams in the Eastern
Himalaya: The Cultural Politics of Identity, Territory
and Self-Governance Institutions in Sikkim, India
Rinchu Doma Dukpa 1, *, Deepa Joshi 2and Rutgerd Boelens 1,3
1Department of Environment Sciences, Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University and
Research, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands;
2Water Governance and Feminist Political Ecology, Center for Water, Agroecology and Resilience,
Coventry University, Priory St, Coventry CV1 5FB, UK;
3CEDLA Center for Latin American Research and Documentation; and Department of Geography,
Planning and International Development Studies, University of Amsterdam, Roetersstraat 33,
1018 WB Amsterdam, The Netherlands
*Correspondence:; Tel.: +31-317-484-190
Received: 9 July 2018; Accepted: 23 November 2018; Published: 26 February 2019
In India’s Eastern Himalayan State of Sikkim, the indigenous Bhutia communities,
Lachungpas and Lachenpas, successfully contested all proposed hydropower projects and have
managed to sustain an anti-dam opposition in their home regions, Lachung and Lachen. In this
paper, we discuss this remarkable, un-researched, effective collective action against hydropower
development, examining how identity and territory influence collective action through production,
creation and application of vernacular knowledge systems. The role of the Dzumsa, a prevailing
traditional system of self-governance among the Lachungpas and Lachenpas, has been central in their
collective resistance against large dams in Lachung and Lachen. Our findings show that contrary
to popular imageries, the Dzumsa is neither an egalitarian nor a democratic institution—rather,
it is an exercise of an “agonistic unity”. The Dzumsas operate as complex collectives, which serve to
politicize identity, decision-making and place-based territoriality in their struggle against internal
and external threats. Principles of a “vernacular statecraft” helped bringing the local communities
together in imperfect unions to oppose modernist designs of hydropower development. However,
while such vernacular institutions were able to construct a powerful local adversary to neoliberal
agendas, they also pose high social, political and emotional risks to the few within the community,
who chose not to align with the normative principles of the collective.
hydropower development; politicized collective identity; territory; collective action;
agonistic unity; vernacular statecraft; Dzumsa; North Sikkim
1. Introduction
Since 2003, over 168 large dams for hydropower development have been proposed in the Eastern
Himalayan Region of India [
]. The push for hydropower development in the north-eastern region
of India (see Figure 1) by both Central and State Governments, have made these developments highly
conflict prone [
]. Several major contentious projects (such as the 520 MW Teesta Stage IV, 500 MW
Teesta Stage VI and 300 MW Panam in Sikkim; the 2000 MW Subansari Lower HEP in Assam; the
1500 Tipaimukh Dam in Tripura; the 2880 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project and Tawang I & II in
Arunachal Pradesh, etcetera) have been stalled, delayed or are waiting for clearance across Northeast
India [
], often characterized by prolonged struggles between dam opponents and proponents. Yet,
Water 2019,11, 412; doi:10.3390/w11030412
Water 2019,11, 412 2 of 23
the business of hydropower development continues as usual, with many official attempts to fast-track,
facilitate and revive old and new hydropower projects across the north-eastern region [35].
Water 2018, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 3 of 23
Mansfeld’s [16] work on “vernacular statecraft” and the creation of “agonistic unity” is particularly
useful in understanding how and why the Lachungpas and Lachenpas collectively and successfully
protested against hydropower development in their respective areas.
Our findings reveal that territorially exclusive and ethnically cohesive collectives like the
Dzumsa do not automatically or easily coalesce as a response to outsider-imposed agendas and
interventions. Rather, collective action is mobilized by some individuals who politicize the notions
of territorial collective identity inside and/or outside existing institutional systems, in this case, the
Dzumsas. When communities are fractured into polarized groups, these vernacular institutions also
become highly politicized, as they are often the means to coerce divided communities into a collective
front or unity, which is nonetheless “agonistic”. Here principles of “vernacular statecraft” can become
highly contentious. We discuss how traditional systems and practices of shamanism (Chya)
coercively bring back dissenters to “agnostic unity”. As we explain, the local imposition of collective
territoriality and identity notions (deploying, amongst others, fear-driven practices as the Chya)
make these highland tribal communities in North Sikkim successful in maintaining their unanimous
anti-dam position. Such virtues of cohesion, collective identity and action are not without
contradictions. Moreover, these practices are also fundamentally at odds with liberal, modern notions
of individual civil liberties.
Figure 1. Delayed hydropower projects, fast tracked in Sikkim. Source: Own elaboration, adapted
from GoS websites. Map not to scale.
We have concluded that identities are not always rooted to land, territory, culture or even
indigeneity, rather they are strategic, fluid, political actions that serve to defend a particular group
Figure 1.
Delayed hydropower projects, fast tracked in Sikkim. Source: Own elaboration, adapted
from GoS websites. Map not to scale.
India’s most well-known anti-dam movement, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) (or Save
Narmada Movement) began contesting the controversial 1450 MW Sardar Sarovar Dam on the
Narmada River in 1989. Nonetheless, after three decades of resistance, which captured global
attention—the Sardar Sarovar Dam was completed in 2006: a stark reminder of the powerful nexus
among Government (Central, State, Local), power companies and other pro-dam advocates, who are
able to pursue dam development against all odds. However, the success of the NBA movement is less
about the outcome and more about the process—creating “space for India’s faceless and nameless
displaced” to voice and influence attention to “equitable development alongside economic growth” [
(p. 382). It has brought to the public domain “the hitherto closed and protected discourse on mega
development projects . . . opening new vistas for environmental movements” [10] (p. 25).
The north-eastern region of India, where hydropower projects are being rolled out currently [
is predominantly inhabited by diverse tribal communities. Tribal autonomy, traditional political
institutions, cultures, socio-economic practices and landscapes are constitutionally protected under
special provisions guaranteed by Article 371 of the Indian Constitution. Ironically, large dam
development, promoted officially as instrument for “development”, often happens against the wishes
of many local tribal communities. This explains why unsuccessful contestations against large dams
Water 2019,11, 412 3 of 23
in the tribal north-eastern region are occasionally violent, resulting in some cases in the death of
anti-dam protesters [
]. It is in this alarmingly pessimistic scenario that we draw attention to the
intriguing case of how two small tribal communities, the Lachungpas of Lachung and the Lachenpas
of Lachen (in North Sikkim) powerfully contested and managed within a short time frame of a few
years, to cancel all the five hydropower projects proposed in their area. Regardless of the external
advocacy for large dams, these two closely associated tribal communities successfully mobilized;
and to this day maintain a unanimous anti-dam position. Ironically, it is the neighboring region of
Dzongu, inhabited by tribal Lepchas, that literature and media consider as the epicenter of anti-dam
movement in North Sikkim. Even though a few dams have been scrapped in Dzongu this is remarkable
since—different from Lachung and Lachen—two mega dam initiatives have been implemented there
with little resistance.
As we will discuss below, a place-based identity precedes all other identities in the case of the
Lachungpas and Lachenpas. In addition, the small minority of Lachungpas (1478 in Lachung) and
Lachenpas (1314 in Lachen) are amongst the few tribal groups in India, and the only ones in Sikkim
who have a traditional, territorial system of self-governance known as the Dzumsa (or Dzomsa).
Outsiders to these areas assume that the Lachungpas and Lachenpas are a “collective entity” united
by a common Dzumsa system. It is believed that this is what enabled the community to “kick-out”
hydropower companies from their respective areas. In analyzing the nature of collective action
among the Lachungpas and Lachenpas and the assumed collective resistance against hydropower
development in these regions, our paper unpacks complex ground realities, pointing evidence to how
territory, identity and traditional governance come together to forge “agonistic unity” and “vernacular
statecraft” [16].
Academic studies in various disciplines discuss how identity triggers collective action or vice
versa [
]. Many scholars argue that within a maze of identity(ies) experienced by individuals
and/or groups, there is a “specific” identity which is key to enabling collective action and/or
that place (or territory) and identity [
] are closely intertwined in protecting and strengthening
cultural values, norms, shared interests and traditional territories (e.g., [
], see also [
In other words, territories or places are key markers of identity [
]. We have engaged here
with the theoretical framework proposed by Klandermans and colleagues [
] (p. 5)—how
politicized collective identity is “the engine of collective action”. They outline three processes through
which collective identity politicizes, triggers or mobilizes collective action, which we discuss in
Section 3. Here we point out that theoretical analyses of collective action rarely pay attention to
how collective actions are sustained over time and/or how consensus is maintained in any society,
which is anyway divided by many fractures—class, age, gender, ethnicity, religion—to name a few.
Colloredo–Mansfeld’s [
] work on “vernacular statecraft” and the creation of “agonistic unity” is
particularly useful in understanding how and why the Lachungpas and Lachenpas collectively and
successfully protested against hydropower development in their respective areas.
Our findings reveal that territorially exclusive and ethnically cohesive collectives like the Dzumsa
do not automatically or easily coalesce as a response to outsider-imposed agendas and interventions.
Rather, collective action is mobilized by some individuals who politicize the notions of territorial
collective identity inside and/or outside existing institutional systems, in this case, the Dzumsas.
When communities are fractured into polarized groups, these vernacular institutions also become
highly politicized, as they are often the means to coerce divided communities into a collective front or
unity, which is nonetheless “agonistic”. Here principles of “vernacular statecraft” can become highly
contentious. We discuss how traditional systems and practices of shamanism (Chya) coercively bring
back dissenters to “agonistic unity”. As we explain, the local imposition of collective territoriality and
identity notions (deploying, amongst others, fear-driven practices as the Chya) make these highland
tribal communities in North Sikkim successful in maintaining their unanimous anti-dam position.
Such virtues of cohesion, collective identity and action are not without contradictions. Moreover, these
practices are also fundamentally at odds with liberal, modern notions of individual civil liberties.
Water 2019,11, 412 4 of 23
We have concluded that identities are not always rooted to land, territory, culture or even
indigeneity, rather they are strategic, fluid, political actions that serve to defend a particular group
from “outsiders/others” and(or) to protect specific claims and interests [
]. The united anti-dam
stand by the Lachungpas and Lachenpas is much more than just the voicing of socio-economic and
environmental concerns relating to large dams. Their resistance is really about (re)claiming territory,
(re)asserting collective identity, reiterating collective action, and valuing as well as using non-official,
non-centralized knowledge and modes of knowing (see [24]).
In the subsequent sections, we detail the political history of identity construction in Sikkim,
to explain how the exclusive Lachungpa/Lachenpa identity came into being in the first place and
sustained via the Dzumsas. A short review of key concepts in Section 3is followed by the study area
and methodology in Section 4. Our findings are described in Section 5. Section 6gives an overview of
discussions and Section 7presents our conclusions.
2. At the Background: Identity Dynamics in Sikkim
To understand the anti-dam resistance in Lachung and Lachen, it is necessary to comprehend
the historical, political, cultural and economic context that determines individual or collective routes
to protest. Schendel’s work on “Zomia” [
] or Shneiderman’s on the “Himalayan Massif” [
both describe the Himalayan region as an invisible, transnational area, “
. . .
marked by a sparse
population, historical isolation
. . .
and linguistic and religious diversity” [
] (p. 187). Before notions
of nation-state crafted definite geo-political borders in the so-called Himalayan Zomia or Massif
(encompassing Nepal, Bhutan, Indian States of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal,
Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh, and China including the Tibetan Autonomous Region [
]), these
regions, more than being “boundary, border”, were like “a zip-per” stitching together various “densely
textured cultural fabrics” [
] (p. 2). The Himalayan State of Sikkim, landlocked by Bhutan in the
west, Tibet in the north, Nepal in its east and India in the South (before the 1975 merger) (see Figure 1)
exhibits typical “Zomian” characteristics. This explains why “society here is a constellation of multiple
identities” [
] (p. 1), resulting from diverse as well as entangled “geographical, linguistic, racial,
national, cultural and religious mixtures, commonalities, fluidity with neighboring” regions [
(p. 290).
2.1. “Sikkimese”—A Newly Created Identity?
The oral history of Sikkim, based on myths, legends and folklore [
], goes back to the 13th
century, when a blood-brotherhood-treaty was signed between the Tibetan prince Khye-Bumsa and the
Lepcha Chief Thekong-thek [
] in North Sikkim. The treaty sealed friendship between the Tibetans
(who referred to themselves as the Lhopos) with the Lepchas of Sikkim (who referred to themselves as
the Rongs) [
]. Nonetheless, modern documented history of Sikkim begins with the consecration
of the Chogyal (righteous King), a Lhopo descendent in 1642 AD, leading to the establishment of the
Namgyal Dynasty with a Lhopo ancestry in Sikkim (1642–1975). Sikkim’s ties with Tibet thus go a long
way into history and were “sustained through matrimonial, religious and trade activities including
administrative support from Tibet” [
] (p. 72). Both the Lhopos and Rongs comprised of numerous
clans or tribal groups, who identified themselves on the basis of their affiliation to specific territory
of origin or places of habitation. In fact, the term Lhopo refers to people of South Tibet, while Rongs
meant “mother’s (nature’s) loved one” [42] (p. 77).
It was the Nepalese who initiated the use of singular terms generalizing the diverse clans of
Lhopos as “Bhotiya” meaning from “Bhot” (Tibet) and Rongs as “Lapcho” referring to people living
in a heap of stone or the stone house [
] in Sikkim and across other Himalayan regions. Although
Sikkim has no similar historical ties with Nepal, Nepali presence in Sikkim predates the arrival of
British in Sikkim in the late 1880s as noted in the first population census of Sikkim recorded in 1891 [
These generic terms gained legitimacy in time. After Sikkim officially became a protectorate of the
British colony of India (1889–1947) with the appointment of the first British Political Officer—John
Water 2019,11, 412 5 of 23
Claude White [
], there was a systematic in-migration of Nepali laborers into Sikkim, facilitated by the
British. The terms, Bhotiya and Lapcho (or “Lapcha” in Parbatiya dialect of Nepal, where Lap meant
speech and Cha meant unintelligible i.e. unintelligible speaker who could not adopt the Parbatiya
language [
]) transitioned into Bhutias and Lepchas and this is how diverse groups belonging to these
two generalized categories are known officially and colloquially in Sikkim. The immigrant Nepalese
is also a generic category that subsumes diverse Nepali ethnic groups (such as Limbo, Khambu-rai,
Yakhas, Sunuwars, Mangars, Gurungs, Tamangs, Bhujels, Thamis, Bahuns, Chettris, Kamis, Damais,
Sarkis, Thakuris, Jogis, Sanyasis, Majhis and Newars in Sikkim) [
]. As we discuss below, this
framing of identity by ethnicity is certainly not nuanced and does little to help explain deep-rooted
and complex identities.
Following the merger of the Kingdom of Sikkim with the Republic of India in 1975, the Bhutias
and Lepchas were pronounced as Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution (Sikkim) Schedule Tribes
Order—derived from clause (1), Article 342 of the Indian Constitution in 1978 [
]. This recognition
entitles these communities, privileges and protections accorded to (all) recognized indigenous tribal
groups by the Indian Constitution. This GoI accreditation is also extended to all Bhutia and Lepcha
communities living outside of Sikkim in the neighboring state of West Bengal, as well as Tibetan
communities across the other Indian Himalayan regions of Laul-Spiti, Kumaon, Garwal referred to as
the Bhotiya, Bhot or Bhoti [
]. In Sikkim, the prefix “Sikkimese” term was thus added to distinguish
local inhabitants from ethnically similar outsider others (see [
]). This happened also because
Sikkim’s merger with India led to a massive in-migration of “outsiders” from all over India [
The influx of a skilled and educated outsider population evoked a conscious construction and imbibing
of the Sikkimese identity, constructing what has become a sharp wedge between the Sikkimese and
the non-Sikkimese. As the Sikkimese prefix came to be adopted by the later migrated Nepalis, who
became the majority population in Sikkim, the minority Bhutias and Lepchas furthered their innate
Sikkimese-ness, constructing more nuanced (and exclusionary) identities such as “local” and “public”
implying different identities and privileges politically (see [
]). Such contentious identity-territoriality
frictions define politico-ethnic fragmentations in this small Himalayan State. It is in this context, that
place affiliated “Lachungpa” and “Lachenpa” terminologies are relevant, reasserted and reiterated.
2.2. The Lachungpas and Lachenpas of North Sikkim and Their Dzumsas
A general understanding is that Sikkimese–Bhutia groups inhabiting the valley regions of Lachung
and Lachen in North Sikkim, located at an altitude of over 2500 m masl along the Indo-China border,
are referred to as Lachungpas and Lachenpas respectively [
]—“pas” meaning “people of”
in Tibetan. However, in practice, not all-Bhutia groups of Lachung and Lachen are considered as
Lachungpas and Lachenpas despite decades of residence in the region. This includes Tibetans who
settled in the Lachen and Lachung regions before the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the early 1950s,
Tibetan refugees who settled here post the closure of Sino-Indo border after 1962, long-term resident
nomadic herders—the Dokpas and some Sherpas—all with Tibetan ancestries. It makes it difficult to
know how the Lachungpas and Lachenpas distinguish themselves from other Tibetan settlers and
refugees, Sherpas, Dokpas of Bhutanese origin. There are many similarities between these different
highland communities living in the Lachung and Lachen region: a centuries old transhumance practice
i.e., migrating seasonally from one ecological zone to another (into higher Himalaya) for agricultural
and pastoral activities; trade ties with Tibet [
], socio-economic and cultural commonalities that come
with geographic proximity. However, an exclusive hallmark that differentiates the Lachungpas and
Lachenpas from others in the region as well as across Sikkim is their traditional administrative system
of local self-governance called the Dzumsa and membership in it.
Ironically, the Dzumsas have a feudal origin. The institution was set up by the Chogyal monarchy
to establish authority and ensure “structural cohesiveness” for collecting land tax in the distant,
far-flung regions of Lachung and Lachen [
]. In time, the Dzumsas also took responsibility for
settling local disputes, overseeing fulfillment of cultural and religious obligations, etcetera. When
Water 2019,11, 412 6 of 23
monarchy was abolished in Sikkim in 1975, following Sikkim’s merger with India, the Dzumsas
of Lachung and Lachen were retained and later, conferred recognition within Sikkim (via Sikkim
Panchayat Amendment Acts, 1982/1993/1995) [
]. This brought the Dzumsas at par with the Gram
Panchayat—the third tier of local village self-governance system under the Panchayati Raj Institution
as imposed in the rest of Sikkim [
]. Further Amendments (2001) protected the Dzumsa’s customary
laws, uncodified in nature, making the two Dzumsas uniquely official as well as traditional [
These unwritten customary laws bestow enormous power on the Dzumsas—making the Dzumsa
rigid and flexible in executing its functioning—in contrast to Gram Panchayats that are strictly based
on GoI and GoS guidelines. One of the key features of the Dzumsa is its social structure: all male
heads of Lachungpa/Lachenpa households are members of their respective Dzumsa committees and
thus influence the dynamics of decision making as well as the execution of the responsibilities and
functions of the Dzumsa. This is hailed by many researchers as one the most traditional models of
democracy [
] and participation. In addition, unlike Gram Panchayats that have affiliations to
political parties and where decisions are influenced by party-ideologies or agendas, the Dzumsas are
deliberately politically neutral. Therefore, while individual affiliation to political parties are allowed,
public displays of such affiliations are banned in Lachung and Lachen.
Elders in Lachung and Lachen explain that in earlier times, membership of the Dzumsa was
open to all households resident in these regions. However, post-merger with India, the geopolitically
sensitive border regions of Lachung and Lachen were the site of significant defense and infrastructural
development by the GoI. This resulted in a huge influx of outsiders, including Indian Army and
Border Relief Organization personnel and various categories of construction workers employed on
military projects (see [
]). This made the Lachungpas and Lachenpas increasingly conscious about
protecting and preserving their territory-affiliated identity and their institutions. The nomination of the
first ever Minister from Lachung in the Government of Sikkim in the early 1980s and the candidate’s
use of the Lachungpa suffix (and not Bhutia) was a conscious re-affirmation of the place-affiliated
identity. Thus, while the generalized terminology Bhutia is used by (especially younger) Lachungpas
and Lachenpas in official documentation (the term brings constitutionally assigned Scheduled Tribes
protections, entitlements and privileges), the older generation mostly do not use the Bhutia title.
They (and the younger generation too) attach the exclusive Lachungpa or Lachenpa as a suffix after
the term Bhutia to reassert their “real” identity. Today, apart from the Bhutia–Lachungpas and
Bhutia–Lachenpas, other resident communities are not Dzumsa members, nor are they considered
to be Lachungpas or Lachenpas in Lachung and Lachen respectively. This benefits those who were
granted Dzumsa membership decades ago by virtue of their residency in the region or through
marriage to Lachungpa/Lachenpa. Dzumsa membership is not a privilege for all inhabitants and
expresses unequal rights. As we will discuss in Sections 5.1 and 5.2, currently, the Dzumsa is an
exclusive, exclusionary institution, but before we explain this, we present a brief literature review on
some selected concepts and theoretical frameworks to ground our paper.
3. Conceptual Notions—The Plurality of Identity
The notion of identity is complex and ambiguous, understood in myriad ways. Identity is
multi-faceted [
], a social construction [
], a social process [
], a social product [
], a collective
phenomenon [
], a fundamental condition of social being [
], etcetera. It is hard to pin down one’s
identity, being a composite of behaviors and factors, a collection of beliefs about oneself. Weinreich
defines identity as a relational construct joining a person’s past, present and future self-images,
. . .
the totality of one’s self-construal, in which how one construes oneself in the present expresses
the continuity between how one construes oneself as one was in the past and how one construes oneself
as one aspires to be in the future” [
] (p. 1). Escobar [
] (p. 203) notes that identity is an “articulation
of difference(s)” that are both “dialogic and relational”, which is why identity is not fixed, continuing to
evolve throughout the lifespan and multiple experiences of any one individual [
]. Or as Massey [
(p.5) says, identities “are not rooted or static, but mutable ongoing (re)productions”. At the same time,
Water 2019,11, 412 7 of 23
identities are also not entirely fluid. Weinreich and Saunderson [
] note that identities constitute “
. . .
a structural representation of the individual’s existential experience, in which the relationships
between self and other agents are organized in relatively stable structures over time
. . .
with the
emphasis on the socio-cultural milieu in which self relates to other agents and institutions” [
] (p. 1).
Identity exists not only at an individual, but also at relational and collective levels [
] giving rise
to a plurality of individual and collective identities, which can be political, social and cultural. Whether
identity is socially constructed [
], discovered, ascribed by others or dominant institutions [
or acquired by oneself [
], according to Castells [
] (p. 7), identity derives meaning and relevance
when “social actors
. . .
internalize or acknowledge” these constructs. Thus, at any point in time,
“individuals have multiple identities, which may not always work in the same direction” (i.e., may be
conflicting) and collectively, any society is often fractured [
] (p. 2). This explains the complexity of
cooperation, solidarities, conflicts and exclusions. While some argue that identity plays an important
role in collective action, identity is not the only factor that influences collective action [
]. Other
factors—such as perceived threats [
], perceived injustices [
], grievances [
], efficacy [
economic interests and motives [
], norms [
], social embeddedness [
], emotions [
appeals [
], moral and(or) inner obligations [
], leadership structures [
], etcetera, also influence
collective action.
3.1. Collective ‘Politicized’ Identity and Collective Action
While individual identities are entirely diverse, it is shared interests and beliefs that converge to
enable collective motivational interests. Here, a sense of “sameness
. . .
manifest(s as)
. . .
shared disposition or consciousness, or in collective action” [
] (p. 7). Collective identity is thus better
described as the identity of an individual as a group member [
]—serving “psychological functions”
that relate to basic needs of the group such as belongingness, distinctiveness, respect, meanings and
agency [
]. However, not all collective identities are salient at the same time; depending on contextual
circumstances, collective identities can acquire or lose their relevance, position and status [61].
Klandermans [17] and many others [2022], argue that collective identity (or identity in general)
“become(s) the engine of collective action” only when politicized [
] (p. 5). Klandermans has
outlined three processes for the politicization of collective identity: 1. awareness of shared grievances;
2. identification of an external adversary (against which/whom claims and grievances can be levied);
and 3. obtaining the support of a legitimate, authoritative third party [
]. A politicized collective
identity often instigates a strong internal, moral obligation to concerned individuals to participate
in collective action [
]. As we discuss below, Klandermans analysis makes a close fit in helping
unpack the construct of a Lachungpa/Lachenpa identity and the relative politicization of it against the
hydropower agenda.
Melucci points out that for any grievance to be explosive, there must be a breaking point or critical
threshold where conflictual reaction is triggered [
]. As he notes, “when norms or shared values are
threatened by some form of imbalance or crisis, the response through which an attempt is made to
re(establish) social order is centered around a common belief which, while often fictitious, mobilizes
collective energies” [
] (p. 14). Further, as Boelens and Claudin [
] argue, in “adverse economic
conditions, competing political influences, and the hegemonic powers that surround and penetrate
. . .
, it is a challenge to maintain and reproduce a ‘community’
. . .
” to ensure, “the collective defense
of a community’s material–economic foundations
. . .
creating and reaffirming shared norms, values,
rights, and symbols” [
] (p. 1071). They state that, while collective institutions are (mostly) rational,
the “rules, relations, and behaviors” that mobilize collective action are not necessarily established
rationally [
] (pp. 1070–1071). Strategies driving politicized collective action are often not about
rational calculations. Rather they are driven strongly by emotions, feelings and perceptions [
Boelens and Claudin detail how these strategies may be the “outgrowths of historical and contemporary
events, of context-specific trial-and-error, of opportunities and limitations on power, and of neighboring
and supralocal institutions that are incorporated” [
] (p. 1071). Critically analyzed, these processes
Water 2019,11, 412 8 of 23
debunk the often, “dogmatic myths of romanticized, rationalistic, or economist” narratives of collective
action [
] (p. 1071). This explains why collective action depends deeply on trust, emotion, connect and
cooperation among participants, spurred by shared understandings, experiences and identities [65].
Going beyond altruistic views, Boelens and Claudin continue to explain how collective action,
not just outwardly but also internally, rests on harsh struggle to shape collective rules and
orientations—inwardly, these institutions constitute “both an arena of power struggles and conflict
negotiation, and a collective entity” [
] (p.1071). In the same vein, Colloredo-Mansfeld (in “Fighting
like a community
. . .
”) [
] and Boelens and Zwarteveen (writing on water justice collectives) [
follow Chantal Mouffe’s notions of “agonistic spaces and relationships” [
]. Colloredo-Mansfeld
describes how collective action rests on “agonistic unity” [
], in other words, a unity that exists
despite of diverse differences (see also [
]). An agonistic unity is often mobilized via techniques
or “organizational measures or strategies developed by leaders
. . .
to administer, persuade and at
times coerce residents to move towards a collective purpose” [
] (p. 7). Colloredo-Mansfeld termed
this mode of arriving at consensus against the odds as vernacular statecraft. Indeed, as our research
findings show, a politicized, sustained collective action against hydropower projects in Lachung and
Lachen provides evidence of an agonistic unity and vernacular statecraft.
To establish and sustain effective collective action in situations of competing interests or in
high-risk context where participants might face repercussion for their actions, social embeddedness of
the conflict in supportive institutions is hugely strategic [
]. These institutions not only provide
relevant resources but also make the “benefits of participation and the cost of non-participation as
high as possible” [
] (p. 588). Certainly, institutions do not always politicize collective identity and
mobilization [
]—there are multiple ways by which “power works within communities” [
(p. 258). Nonetheless, as we discuss below, the Dzumsas provided resources such as information and
funding, and forced the community by making the benefits of participation and, especially, the costs of
non-participation utterly high.
As observed by Boelens and Claudin [
] (p. 1071), maintaining and reproducing “community”,
its material-economic foundations and norms, values, rights and symbols, is closely interlinked with
notions of territory and territoriality, which we briefly describe below.
3.2. Territory and Territoriality
In the research regions, both identity (as Lachungpas and Lachenpas) and its social embeddedness
in the traditional institution (Dzumsas) had a strategic connect to place/territory. This weave between
identity, institution and place finds resonance in the views that territories are not just formal nation state,
province or other legal-administratively demarcated regions [
]. Rather, territories are geographically
demarcated and cultural-politically bound spaces, constructed around and by socio-spatial authority.
In a broad sense, territories link social, physical and symbolic entities: they entwine ecological
systems, legal-administrative arrangements, technical-physical infrastructures, political discourses,
and socio-economic livelihoods. Or as Swyngedouw and Boelens [
] (p. 117) say, “territory is the
socio-materially constituted and geographically delineated organization and expression of and for the
exercise of political power”.
Similarly, Antonsich [
] (p. 425) argues that territory is “the socio-spatial context where the
living together is produced, organized and negotiated”. Territories are dynamic, historically shaped,
contested and permanently negotiated. As Hommes, Boelens and Maat state: “They evolve out of social
encounters and are the effect of social relations’ material inscriptions that define what spaces look like
and how, in turn, connected social relations are organized
. . .
The making of territory is an interactive
and continuous process that emerges from imaginaries about what a territory in its judicial, political,
economic, social, cultural, affective and physical aspects, should look like” [
] (p. 3), (see also [
Importantly, therefore, this broad concept of territory includes blatant and subtle everyday struggles,
disputes about discourses, and battles around the use and recognition of divergent knowledge systems.
Consequently, battles over local territorial constructs and territorial governance forms deeply constitute
Water 2019,11, 412 9 of 23
and interact with identity and knowledge formation and re-creation. Territory thus has profoundly
divergent meanings [
]. Territories come with “limits” and “otherness” and these demarcations are
often determined by identity [
]. Territories thus are markers of identity (and vice-versa) and more
often than not, enablers or disablers of processes of social exclusion perpetuating “lack or denial or
resources, rights, good and services, and the ability to participate in normal relationships and activities”
to some over others [
] (p. 25). Territories are therefore not static, rather, they are continually contested
and actively negotiated [51].
Agnew and Oslender refer to territory as the popular acceptance of classification of space
(e.g., ours versus yours), as a way of communication regarding a sense of place, and as a concept
to express enforcing control over space (such as by barrier construction, interception, surveillance,
policing and judicial review) [
]. As such, territoriality is usually put into practice in a number
of different but complementary ways. Often, protecting physical demarcations of territory through
“territoriality” serves to protect, preserve and strengthen identity and associated cultural values [
by “affect(ing), influence(ing) or control(ing) people, phenomena, and relationships, by delimiting and
asserting control over a geographic area” [
] (p. 19). In sum, identity, territory and territoriality are
deeply entangled and often inseparable [31].
4. Study Area and Methodology
4.1. The Study Area: Cancelled Hydropower Projects in Lachung and Lachen
Lachung (altitude 2600 masl) means “small-mountain” and Lachen (altitude 2700 masl)
“big-mountain” in Tibetan [
]. The two regions are approximately 60 km apart from each other
and located in the North District of Sikkim. Based on the information displayed on official display
boards in the local health offices in the two areas, Lachung has a population of 1478 Lachungpas
(in 420 households) and 370 non-Lachungpas (in 72 households) while Lachen has 1314 Lachenpas
(in 216 households) and 126 non-Lachenpas. (The total number of non-Lachenpa households in
Lachen was not mentioned on the community notice board). Lachung and Lachen are administratively
categorized by the GoI and GoS as “restricted” areas and remain under heavy military surveillance
because both these valleys regions have mountain passes that connect Sikkim with Tibet, [45]. Travel
permits including No-Objection Certificates for research activities are required to enter these areas.
However, lately tourism has emerged as a booming local industry in both Lachung and Lachen.
In Lachen, two large hydropower projects, the 320 MW Teesta Stage I and the 330 MW Teesta
Stage II, part of the “cascade” dams (i.e., the series of six hydropower dams—Teesta Stage I, II, III, IV,
V and VI that were conceived as early as the 1970s) were cancelled after public protest (see Figure 2).
Additionally, the 210 MW Lachen HEP and the 75 MW Talem Chu planned by multiple Independent
Power Producers (IPPs) after the 2003 Hydel-Initiative Announcement by GoI were also cancelled.
In Lachung, a 99 MW Lachung HEP, originally planned two dams in different sites was cancelled
following local contestations. It is important to note that these valley regions are fully electrified by
micro-hydel projects (3 MW Lachung Small HEP and the 3 MW Chatten HEP in Lachen) developed
in the late 1980s. Another 3 MW Rabom HEP implemented in Lachen was damaged and declared
non-functioning by the 2011 earthquake. Nonetheless, energy is a vital need in these high-altitude
cold regions that faces frequent power cuts. It is therefore surprising that the large-scale hydropower
development planned here with the promise of free electricity and other developmental gains, was
fiercely opposed.
Water 2019,11, 412 10 of 23
Water 2018, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 23
Figure 2. Hydropower Dams in Lachung and Lachen. Source: Own elaboration, adapted from GoS
websites. Map not to scale.
4.2. Methodology
This paper draws from ethnographic research (see [83–86]) with diverse data collection methods,
such as observations, semi-structured-interviews, focus group and individual discussions etcetera.
The first author-researcher had been in the study area since mid-2015, first in the neighboring region
of Chungthang (mid 2015–early 2016). The fieldwork in Lachung and Lachen was a continuation of
the research in North Sikkim. This set the ground for meeting the Lachungpas and Lachenpas
through mutual contacts (from Chungthang). Fieldwork for the current paper was conducted from
late September 2016 up to February 2017 in Lachung, and resumed from end May 2017 to early
October 2017 in Lachen. In the months spent in each area, familiarization with the place and its people
was done through living in Lachung and Lachen and by “deep hanging out” [84,85]. The first author-
researcher, being a woman and a non-local in the study area, conducting research, speaking to large
numbers of male strangers, initially aroused suspicion and distrust in the study area. However, being
a Bhutia herself, having family in Sikkim, with stays for long periods of time with local host families—
gave the researcher some degree of familial connection and allowed her to be seen as an afnai-manchey
(one of us). Attending socio-cultural and religious festivals, taking transects walks alone or with host
Figure 2.
Hydropower Dams in Lachung and Lachen. Source: Own elaboration, adapted from GoS
websites. Map not to scale.
4.2. Methodology
This paper draws from ethnographic research (see [
]) with diverse data collection methods,
such as observations, semi-structured-interviews, focus group and individual discussions etcetera.
The first author-researcher had been in the study area since mid-2015, first in the neighboring region
of Chungthang (mid 2015–early 2016). The fieldwork in Lachung and Lachen was a continuation
of the research in North Sikkim. This set the ground for meeting the Lachungpas and Lachenpas
through mutual contacts (from Chungthang). Fieldwork for the current paper was conducted from late
September 2016 up to February 2017 in Lachung, and resumed from end May 2017 to early October
2017 in Lachen. In the months spent in each area, familiarization with the place and its people was done
through living in Lachung and Lachen and by “deep hanging out” [
]. The first author-researcher,
being a woman and a non-local in the study area, conducting research, speaking to large numbers of
male strangers, initially aroused suspicion and distrust in the study area. However, being a Bhutia
herself, having family in Sikkim, with stays for long periods of time with local host families—gave
the researcher some degree of familial connection and allowed her to be seen as an afnai-manchey
Water 2019,11, 412 11 of 23
(one of us). Attending socio-cultural and religious festivals, taking transects walks alone or with host
family members and newly made friends, visiting touristic places enabled to be in the public gaze
long enough to be considered a “regular”. After some degree of trust and familiarity was gained, data
collection was initiated with different groups of the local families residing in Lachung and Lachen:
farmers, private business entrepreneurs, government employees, the unemployed, etc. Meetings with
Lachungpa and Lachenpa residents, and with Tibetan, Dokpa, Sherpa, Lepcha and Nepali families,
took place on an everyday basis, to strengthen confidence. The male head of Lachungpa and Lachenpa
households were also members of their respective Dzumsas, who regularly attend Dzumsa meetings.
In all 47 individuals were interviewed personally over a period of time (repeated meetings) and
multiple discussions were conducted with a much larger number of others. Given the blanket opinion
of “no dams in Lachung and Lachen”, initial interactions here did not begin with questions about dams
and dam resistance. Nonetheless, the purpose and nature of the research was made known to those
who opposed dams blatantly as well as latently. Two power company officials were interviewed—not
from the power company that the Lachungpas and Lachenpas threw out (see Section 5) but agents
working at other operating hydropower projects nearby, in Chungthang and Mangan.
The next sections present our findings. We begin with a brief description of the structure and
characteristics of Dzumsa and relate these with our core findings, following which, we discuss how
the announcement to develop hydropower projects in the two areas triggered an agonistic unity and
how the Dzumsa enabled the reordering of the collective by ensuring high risks of exclusions to those
who challenged the vernacular alliance.
5. Hydropower Development and the Politicization of Identity, Territory and Dzumsa
5.1. Dzumsa: Structure and Decision-Making
Colloquially, the term, Dzumsa has three literal meanings, “a gathering place”; “an institution
in charge of administrating and organizing activities within a given territory” and “the general
council of villagers composed of household heads” [
] (p.95). Lachungpas and Lachenpas have
their own (separate) Dzumsas, and this institution is only accessible to male head of households
among the Lachungpas and Lachenpas. Unlike Gram Panchayats, administratively both Dzumsas
are composed of (and chaired by) Pipons, who are normally the village-headmen. An inner core
Dzumsa committee includes Gyapons (elderly males to assist Pipons), Gyembos (male members who
function as messengers), Chuitimpas (male monks to assist Pipons), Tsipos/Chipons (male accountants)
and Machays (male cooks). All other male heads of Lachungpas and Lachenpas households are
Dzumsa members. Lachungpa and Lachenpa women are only occasionally allowed to attend Dzumsa
meetings—in exceptional situations, when the male-head of household is absent or unable to attend
(with a valid reason). Also, “others” residing in Lachung and Lachen are not a part of the Dzumsa,
even though they are governed by Dzumsa norms and conditionalities. They do not participate in the
collective decision-making.
In earlier times, Pipons were selected by the Chogyals and this post continued as a hereditary
appointment in the Pipon’s family. Post-monarchy, individuals who were identified as reliable were
nominated by the Dzumsa members and often succession continued to follow along hereditary
lines [
]. After monarchy was abolished post 1975, both Dzumsas began incorporating various
other methods for the nomination—elections, a lottery system or simply hand raising. In Lachung,
the Pipons are always elected or selected from two places—Lema and Khedum, and the Pipons from
these two places officiate as Pipon 1 and II on a rotational basis. In Lachen individual Lachenpas
securing the highest and second highest votes becomes Pipon-I and Pipon-II, respectively. Regardless,
the two Pipons (I and II) are bestowed with equal power and functions and are responsible to dispense
administrative functions and lead socio-cultural activities. Currently, in Lachung, Pipons are elected
for a fixed two-year term and are appointed not by election but through a public lottery system. Pipons
Water 2019,11, 412 12 of 23
in Lachen continue to be elected through voting and are elected only for a year but unlike in Lachung,
outgoing Pipons can be re-elected and continue for as many years should they garner votes.
Although extremely rare, Pipons can be ousted from their posts by the Dzumsa members any
time if they failed to carry out their duties vis-a-vis the wellbeing of the community and the place.
The plans to develop hydropower projects led to (such) an unprecedented removal of the Pipon(s) in
Lachung, while in Lachen too, the Pipons were threatened with possible removal from the post. This
power of the Dzumsa members to elect or nominate and dispose their representatives at any time and
for any issue makes the Dzumsa different from Gram Panchayats, where village representatives must
be elected and have a fixed five-year term. Additionally, the two Dzumsas are by choice non-political
and do not allow individual party affiliation of the Dzumsa members to influence the functions and
powers (as is prevalent in the Panchayat institutions in Sikkim). In fact the public displays of political
party affiliation by means of flags and political canvasing were banned in both Lachung and Lachen as
such acts were perceived as threats to the collective public unity and peace in the region.
Dzumsa meetings in Lachen and Lachung are called by the Pipons through Gyapons and
decision-making is through unanimous consensus. However, the Pipons also have the exclusive
power to take unilateral decisions on both urgent critical as well as mundane issues, which speak to
the wellbeing of the place and the people. When Pipons fail or hesitate in making critical decisions,
the Chuitimpas or Gyembos are consulted to assist arriving at a decision. Once decisions are made,
they are relayed to the Dzumsa members, who often go by what their representatives have agreed.
It is interesting to note that Dzumsa members can deliberate on and contest the decisions taken by
the Dzumsa representatives. However, in turn, if the Pipon considers these arbitrations to be invalid
or unreasonable, the persons making these deliberations can be fined. If the Dzumsa representatives
cannot make a decision, then all Dzumsa members collectively deliberate until a majority agrees on
the decision.
The Dzumsa plays a critical role in these communities—making decisions on a wide array of
everyday issues that can be socio-economic, environmental, cultural, religious, law and order, etcetera.
All decisions which the community must abide by. This is why, although administratively Dzumsas
and its equivalent Gram Panchayats dispense the same functions, the customary and traditional laws of
the Dzumsa recognized by the GoS expands the power and function of the Dzumsa beyond that of the
Gram Panchayats within their territory. It allows them added power and legitimacy to impose coercive
actions on the Lachungpas and Lachenpas but also on the non-Dzumsa members (i.e., the Tibetan,
Sherpa, Dokpa or Nepali) like fines, impose new rules and regulations, social exclusions, boycotts,
including settling of grave disputes.
Thus, while the Dzumsa is eulogized as egalitarian and democratic by many researchers, it is rather
hierarchical, masculine and exclusionary in its structure and operation [
] (p. 35). The Dzumsa
was not always so closed as it is today. An elderly Lachenpa recalled, “I had heard that in the old times,
Dzumsa had very few members. Of-course then our population was also very low, yet, still Dzumsa
meetings were not compulsory and any one (outsiders) could join it. The members registration was so
low that one had to seek people to join Dzumsa and constantly request people to undertake collective
work”. Sikkim’s merger with India in 1975 and the subsequent marking of territory (land settlement
surveys in 1978/1979 under GoI) as well as the nature and extent of translocal developments have
contributed to the reassertion of a territorial collective identity among the Lachungpas and Lachenpas.
In the section below, we look at how hydropower development threatened the agonistic union of
this traditional self-governing body and how the Dzumsa members resorted to ‘vernacular statecraft’
to restore their collective identity and institution.
5.2. Hydropower Intervention and Politicization of Collective Identity
Ways of living and governance in Lachung and Lachen conform to an uncodified customary and
traditional system, which is deeply exclusionary. The State push for hydropower development took
place in a context that has historically been politically suspicious and antagonistic. In the words of a
Water 2019,11, 412 13 of 23
male Lachenpa respondent: “If the ‘company’ (hydropower project) comes, they will bring with them
thousands of outsiders, whose presence will dilute our existence. Our land, culture, tradition, old
practices and identity are at stake. We will be outnumbered. We will be forced to relax our existing
Dzumsa rules and laws to pave easy way for such developments. This way, our age-old laws, rules
and regulations will slowly lose their relevance”.
It was reported that the GoI announcement of the 50,000 MW Indian Hydroelectric Initiative in the
North District of Sikkim in 2003 [
] led to an urgent Yul-Dru-Sum meeting in Chungthang between the
Lepchas of Dzongu, the Lepchas and Bhutias living in Chungthang and the Bhutias living in Lachen
and Lachung. (In Tibetan “Yul-Dru-Sum” translates to Yul meaning three, Dru meaning together
and Sum meaning places i.e., the people of three places—Lachung and Lachen as one entity, Dzongu
and Chungthang). This meeting was also attended by Lepchas from nearby project-affected-areas
outside the administrative boundaries of North Sikkim. A momentous unanimous decision was made
amongst the two indigenous groups (Lepchas and Bhutias) to not allow any power-companies in
the region. A 45-year-old Lachen resident who attended the meeting recalled: “There were around
50 to 60 people that day. We discussed in detail the pros and cons of hydropower development
and concluded that if such companies entered, we would be left with just the Sikkim-Subject land
documents but with no land. We would have sickles in our hands but no land to farm. We agreed to
all say ‘no’ to the company”. However, just a year later in 2004, the Yul-Dru-Sum pact was violated in
Chungthang, where 80% of the Lepchas welcomed the 1200 MW Teesta Stage III HEP development
(see [
]). Another Lachenpa respondent who had attended the meeting felt that this happened,
because, “Unfortunately we did not translate the decision to a written agreement. The Lepchas played
a nice game. First, they said no, and then they negotiated for a higher amount of compensation money
before saying yes”.
Since 2004, the GoS had started to issue Letters-of-Intent (LoI) to power-companies, mostly
Independent Power Producers (IPPs), which gave these organizations the right to access protected and
reserved areas to initiate detailed surveys and investigations. The LoI also gives power-companies
both the right and responsibility for contacting local communities and obtaining local consensus for
planned development interventions. Private corporations are particularly skilled in making promises
of development and economic gains; this is precisely what had happened in the case of the Teesta
Stage III project planned in Chungthang (see [
]). As it turns out, like the Lepchas, some Lachungpas
too (even if briefly) had faltered on the Yul-Dru-Sum agreement, although the Lachenpas had honored
the decision.
Despite the promise to say no to hydropower development and the skepticism among Lachungpas
and Lachenpas regarding such developments, an independent private power company was able to
rupture the collective decision in Lachung. Talks for a 99 MW HEP hydropower project by Polyplex
India Private Limited—an independent power company—went ahead here in 2005/2006 with the
support of a few powerful Lachungpas, who held important government positions and lived in the
capital Gangtok, as well as by a (then) Pipon of Kedum in Lachung, who gave his consent to a private
company to undertake surveys along the riverbanks. According to the Pipon, he was gifted cash
to distribute amongst the people of Lachung for allowing Polyplex company to begin the survey
for two dams in Lachung: “I asked my people to accept the money as a gift from God and enjoy
it”. All Dzumsa members in Lachung had indeed accepted the money initially. “The Pipon was a
well-respected man and powerful as well, his brother has been in politics for a long time. We believed
him when he said that the survey would be undertaken along the rivers and that land would not be
touched. Believing in him, each Lachungpa household head accepted twenty thousand Indian Rupee
(equivalent to less than 300 Euro) that he distributed on behalf of the company. But when we saw that
they were also assessing our land and mountains, we intervened. People might accuse us of selling
out, but trust me, we didn’t”.
At around this time, young educated Lachungpa youth started to raise concerns about the
potential impacts of such development. Initially, these concerns were not considered by the Dzumsa
Water 2019,11, 412 14 of 23
representatives. In fact, the Pipon of Lachung (who had distributed the money) refused to grant the
youth an “emergency” meeting with Dzumsa members. According to a youth activist, “We were
denied Dzumsa meeting by the Dzumsa representatives. Despite the restrictions placed on us, for the
first time in our life, we disobeyed the norm and formal processes associated with the Dzumsa. We
announced an emergency meeting publicly on a loudspeaker. Thankfully, people turned up the next
day and we could place our concerns in front of everyone”.
This emergency meeting led to a direct confrontation between these youth with the (then) Pipon
from Khedum. The Pipon and a few of his aides were accused for a lack of transparency and money
embezzlement. While such intervening in the Dzumsa’s authority was unprecedented, it nonetheless,
eventually led to the majority of the Dzumsa members supporting this accusation as the youth were
equipped with critical questions and proofs, which led to the ousting of the Pipon from his post,
and later on from Dzumsa itself. This process was supported by the other Pipon from Lema but
contested by some Lachungpas who still supported the ousted Pipon—bringing much conflict within
the community. The Dzumsa members were split between the Pipon of Khedum who had favored
dams and the Pipon of Lema who has supported the youth—creating animosity and distrust between
the once amicable inhabitants of Lachung. A Lachungpa laments, “We were so polarized initially that
when one youngster from Lema attended a public meeting in Khedum in disguise to listen to their
discussions about hydropower dams, he was unfortunately caught and brutally beaten.”
According to the ousted Pipon, a 45-year-old Lachungpa: “I was the Pipon of Khedum in 2010.
The company informed me during my tenure that the sites selected for the project earlier were not
correct, and they only wanted to see where the first survey had been done. Just on that premise,
Dzumsa members kicked me out of the Pipon post.” However, a Lachungpa Dzumsa member added
that: “It was forbidden to even talk about the company in Lachung, forget about entertaining their
calls or talks. The second ousted Pipon did not consult us, or bring the matter to us, so we kicked
him out of the post. We will remove anyone from that position who does gaddhar [betrays] to us
and our place.” Hydropower issues trigered the Lachungpas to mobilize and assert their voice and
might; and not always in the most positive ways. Some days after the Pipon had been expelled,
a violent confrontation took place when the Polyplex Company began drilling tests in the nearby
mountains. “They started to dig through our mountains and take our stones. That was it! It was
evening, these people were camping in tents. We burnt their tents, shouted at them and kicked
them. Some of them were cooking food. We kicked their pots of rice, hurled them into trucks, drove
them outside of Lachung and threatened them to never come back. Eventually, we regretted that we
had attacked poor laborers, who were just doing what they were tasked by the company”. These
violent protests continued in Lachung, where company vehicles were damaged and local residents
(Lachungpas and non-Lachungpas) working for the company were threatened to quit working or be
ousted from Lachung.
The first expelled Pipon of Kedum, however was unshaken by the stand against him and became a
prominent dam supporter. Being powerful and politically well-connected, his expulsion from Dzumsa
was re-negotiated and he was allowed to retain his Dzumsa membership, from where he lobbied
harder for the dam projects. In his words, “I managed to transport people in 45 to 47 vehicles from
Lachung to the District Collector’s Office at Mangan, where I confronted the anti-hydropower people
from Lachung. I answered every charge levied against me, and finally I asked the District Magistrate
to ‘welcome’ the company back to Lachung and continue their work. That the company didn’t go back,
is not my fault. It simply shows that it was a weak company”.
Although it was in Lachen that the CWC had started the planning for hydropower development,
Lachen was the last of the three regions where dams were announced. The time lag between the first
dam planning processes in Chungthang and then in Lachung allowed the Lachenpas to observe and
understand how coercion in dam development takes place. By the time the power companies went
to Lachen to get an agreement on two hydropower projects, the Lachenpas felt they understood the
politics of dam development.
Water 2019,11, 412 15 of 23
The Lachenpas adhered to an absolute “no” right from the very beginning. Unlike in Lachung,
where one Pipon and his supporters became local mediators within the Dzumsa for the private
company, in Lachen, a powerful collective of Government officials, the power-company, National
Hydroelectic Power Corporation (NHPC) as well as Ministers went directly to meet the Dzumsa
members of Lachen and seek their approval for multiple hydropower projects in 2005. At this meeting,
the Dzumsa members of Lachen remained firm—their verdict was a unanimous “no”: “We knew this
powerful group of individuals were coming to talk about hydropower development. The Minister
accompanying them was a Lachungpa, so we told him directly, take your proposal to your own place,
Lachung. The Dzumsa had called a meeting a day before, where we had deliberated and collectively
decided to say no. When the group came for the Dzumsa meeting and sat in the Dzumsa hall, we
closed all the doors and latched it. This might have intimidated them. The moment our Minister
started talking about the company, people shouted
. . .
We were hostile and managed to scare them
off”. This development also resulted in significant tensions between the Lachungpas and Lachenpas.
The Lachenpas managed to dethrone the Lachungpa Minister. “We were so angry at our Minister.
He being a Lachungpa, brought the group here. A devastation masked as development for us here!
We considered him our own and had supported him for a long time. However, after that meeting,
we told the Chief Minister of Sikkim that all of us at Lachen would no longer support his party and
would join the opposition party if the Lachungpa Minister continued in the cabinet. Soon thereafter
another person was given the ticket to represent North Sikkim”. The power companies (NHPC and a
few IPPs such as Hima Giri) tried approaching the Dzumsa many times and eventually managed, like
in Lachung, to convince one of the Pipons there to speak on their behalf. However, this did not yield
any positive outcome.
A deep distrust, even paranoia, for power companies took root among the Lachungpas and
Lachenpas. In fact, company representatives were forcibly asked to leave Lachen when he had visited
Lachen as merely a tourist. Another Lachungpa recalled: “Our people have become fearful about
the company. I was once urgently called by our elders who told me that some company people
had sneaked into Lachung with their instruments and were taking pictures of our rivers. I rushed,
to find the intruders surrounded by our village people. As it turned out, these were mere tourists,
using a tripod to take pictures near the river”. Below we describe the various strategies adopted by
the Lachungpas and Lachenpas to counter not just the power companies but the distrust, disunity
and animosity that had crept within and in-between their communities—where the power of the
Dzumas becomes imperious and unlike Gram Panchayats, becomes “binding” in determining pro-
and anti-dam positions among the Lachungpas and Lachenpas.
5.3. Agonistic Unity: Dzumsa, Anti-Hydropower Resistance and Vernacular Statecraft
In Lachung, following the brief tryst with the Polyplex company and the internal fractures, an
oath was taken by many Dzumsa members at Thomchi Gumpa in 2010, their main monastery, to never
allow a hydropower company to enter Lachung. At this oath ceremony, fears of social exclusion and
boycott from Dzumsa were announced for any remaining pro-dam supporters. This was followed
by a series of new conditions set for Dzumsa members of Lachung: firstly, only those individuals
who contested all hydropower projects would be eligible to become Pipons; secondly, all Lachungpas
were restricted from talking about or to “company persons”, at least within the borders of Lachung.
In fact many Lachungpas even collected and submitted their land documents to the anti-dam faction
of Dzumsa members to not fall prey into selling their lands to power companies or the pro-dam
faction. In Lachen, despite the unanimous decision of no-dams, Dzumsa members came up with
similar new rules for its larger residents: no one was allowed to lobby for any company; no hotel
owners were allowed to host hydropower “company” people, even if they came in as tourists; no
shops were allowed to sell anything, including water to the company people, no one was allowed to
talk or negotiate with company. If anyone was found doing these, they would be boycotted from the
society and sanctioned out of the Dzumsa.
Water 2019,11, 412 16 of 23
However, both in Lachung and Lachen—these restrictions were capped by something far more
potent. The local cultural practice of “Chya” (referred to as “Chya-Kyapshe” in Lachung and
“Ma-Chya” in Lachen) and colloquially known as “Kalo Puja” in Nepali (translating to black ceremony)
was announced as a “last weapon”. The Chya is a dreaded public ritual usually undertaken in
stealth—when the perpetrator is not known or when the intentions of certain individuals go against the
wellbeing of the larger community and their place(s). For the Lachungpas and Lachenpas, mountains
and glacial lakes surrounding the two valley regions hold great significance as they are considered
to be the abode of their Lhasung(s) (guardian-deities), revered and feared in these high mountain
knowledge systems. Chya involves invoking these very local-deities to make a collective curse to
punish “unknown” or dangerous perpetrators. This ceremony is performed only after the majority
of the Dzumsa members are in consensus. Initiated by paus (sorcerers), this collective cursing is
performed with great faith and belief that the perpetrators are punished through an ultimate death for
their acts against place and people. The Ma-Chya of Lachen is believed to also be passed on to the
perpetrator’s future generations. These rituals are thus deeply feared by all in Lachen and Lachung:
“We believe in Chya and take it very seriously. People have died unexpectedly in Lachung and Lachen
after Chya was performed. Healthy people suddenly contact grave diseases and die, and the cycles of
misfortune continue for future generations. The Chya only works on the guilty, this is the greatest feat
of its relevance”. It is important to note that when a collective decision is made to perform Chya on
known or unknown individuals, there is little room to oppose or not engage in this process. This can
have repercussions of social exclusion and boycott.
When the power company gained entry in Lachung, Chya-Khyapse was reported to have been
performed against those who “sold-out” and/or embezzled funds. In Lachen, where no company
was allowed, Ma-Chya was still performed as a deterrent to all Lachenpas from succumbing to the
pressure or lure of money. A Lachenpa elderly explained: “The Pipon from Lachen who had some
hand in getting the Ministers and company people here was on his way to Gangtok, when he turned
ill and died a year later. He was right here with us when Ma-Chya was performed. One could argue
that he was suffering from a disease, however, no one had expected him to suddenly die. His death is
said to be the effect of Ma-Chya. We hear now that the first expelled Pipon of Lachung who welcomed
the company is so scared of the Chya performed on him, that he has been performing one religious
ceremony after another to negate the effects of the Chya”. It is important to add here that recently,
Chya has been banned in Lachung at the request of the Lachung Rinpoche (learned monk) as the
Buddhist practice of compassion does not support destruction and ills wished upon another. However,
the practice continues in Lachen.
The knowledge and practice of Chya not only deters all hydropower development, it remains a
powerful vernacular statecraft against dissent with the Dzumsa. As a Lachungpa youngster states:
“Hydropower companies are powerful and supported by the entire government machinery and
bureaucracy. There is constant pressure and lobbying by the advocates of power projects. Money
plays an important role in these processes. In the face of these challenges, Chya is our only way of
preventing this destruction from development from happening”. So great is this fear, that numerous
attempts by power companies to enter the region have failed. As a Lachenpa reported: “Even after
all these events in Lachen, there are continued attempts to woo our Pipons. One of our Pipons was
invited to a five-star hotel (Mayfair) in Gangtok and offered India Rupee 9 to 10 crores (equivalent to a
little over 1 million in Euro) to work towards public consensus to the dam building agenda. These
tactics have not worked”.
In fact, government officials who powerfully lobbied on behalf of the power companies elsewhere
in Sikkim and showed no hesitation in coercing local communities to agree to these plans, are cautious
in doing the same in Lachung and Lachen. Here they try to resort to logical narratives of gains and
benefits from hydropower development and yet, when they fail to convince the Lachungpas and
Lachenpas, they say, that hydropower development did not happen here, because most of the areas
that will be impacted are forest areas—hence individuals will not receive compensation/s. “It is
Water 2019,11, 412 17 of 23
simply a clever cost/benefit analysis case. They [Lachung-pas/Lachenpas] know very well that most
of the land for hydropower development is in forest areas, meaning less compensation. That’s why
they resist these plans and are successful in doing so”. Nonetheless, the power companies and their
advocates keep trying to pursue hydropower development.
The consequences of resisting hydropower development have not been easy for the Lachungpas
and Lachenpas. This has resulted in official forms of punishment and coercion, mostly done through
job transfers of government employees vocal against the hydropower development plans. A young
Lachungpa laments, “I have seen first-hand the politically motivated transfers of our people to faraway
places, far away from their families”. These developments have only served to strengthen resistance.
Giving the example of Tibetans, an old Lachungpa states: “The Tibetans are just refugees for the rest of
the world. If our land goes, what will happen to our identity? This is why we have to protect this place
for us to stay rooted and come back here no matter where we might occasionally go”. This process of
exercising territoriality continues. In 2015, a traditional “dress code” was made mandatory in both
Lachung and Lachen. Married women in Lachen, and women above 15 years in Lachung have to wear
their traditional clothes in their respective regions; while men are required to wear these for all social
occasions, especially at funerals.
6. Discussion
The findings from this research illustrate how identity constructs and cultural politics play out
dynamically in the resistance to hydropower projects by the indigenous Lachungpas and Lachenpas in
North-Sikkim. Here, we summarize a couple of key issues for further discussion.
First, resistance to large-scale hydropower development by the Lachung and Lachen communities
go far beyond a mere battle against the dreadful material (socio-economic and environmental) impacts
that come with mega hydropower development in fragile mountain ecologies. Although these
issues were of concern, also because the two communities increasingly rely on a booming tourism
industry—where keeping the landscape scenic is vital to people’s livelihoods, it was not just concern
about possible material losses that led to a collective position of resistance. The Lachungpas and
the Lachenpas were deeply concerned about how these new developments would impact upon
territoriality—the defense of place (territory), of place-based institutions and the community’s unique
collective identity as well as their meanings, values and modes of living and knowing. All of these
issues are not just central to the ways of being and living for the Lachungpas and the Lachenpas, they
are also a powerful means of exercising, asserting and reiterating (collective) identity in the fractured
political context of governance in Sikkim. For the Lachungpas and Lachenpas, articulation of their
personal and collective identity, of being different, sprouts importantly from their ideas of demarcating
territory and constructing (or exercising) territoriality. Territory and territoriality is indeed a key
marker of the collective Lachungpa/Lachenpa identity construction. It is their collective identity,
interlaced with their historic territorial systems and practices, that has enabled the Lachungpas and
Lachenpas to define, project and deploy other kinds of boundaries—moral, cultural, ethnic, economic,
political, including their loyalty and solidarities among themselves and against the others. Inwardly
and outwardly, territory and identity entwine through the two Dzumsas in their attempt to affect,
influence and control people, phenomena, and relationships; thereby demarcating and asserting control
over their cultural-political geography. Shared territorial or place-based identity in Lachung and
Lachen is the basis around which individual interests are translated into group interests and collective
action—which manifests in the projection of a united front against the “others” and “outsiders”.
Second, the theoretical analyses discussed in Section 3explain how an externally imposed agenda
of development and the various bearers of these plans and proposals became adversaries which helped
both trigger as well as politicize collective identity. The centrality of the Dzumsas in this struggle
over territoriality, in making the “benefits of participation and the cost of non-participation as high as
possible” [
] (p. 588) cannot be overstated. The role of the Dzumsas in enforcing an agonistic unity is
therefore crucial. At the crux of collective identity and associated territorial projections are the Dzumsas,
Water 2019,11, 412 18 of 23
which act as binding authorities and steering institutions to engage in locally-particular consciousness,
morality and collective action. Collective measures such as threats of social boycott, community
expulsion, no-display of political flags, etc., would not be implemented had it not been for the Dzumsa.
These measures helped execute a conscious responsibility to keep the Lachungpas/Lachenpas together.
Nothing is as sacrosanct as the maintaining of unity amongst the respective Lachungpa and Lachenpas
Dzumsa members. As much as the Dzumsas draw their power from the members to acquire and
maintain unity, the members draw their power, agency and voice from the Dzumsas, giving rise to a
symbiotic dependence on each other. This symbiotic relationship sustains the effectiveness of Dzumsa
officials vis-à-vis its members and also provides particular checks-and-balance to each other. In Sikkim,
if not for the traditional and customary Dzumsas, the Lachungpa/Lachenpa identity would have
been lumped into the broader “Bhutia” identity losing its hallmark distinction. The Dzumsa gives
legitimacy to the exclusive collective identity of the Lachungpas and Lachenpas.
Third, as we note, these virtues of cohesion, collective identity and action are not without
contradictions—they pose high social, political and emotional risks to those within this community,
who for various reasons, might choose to not align with the normative principles of the collective.
In addition, territories confining the two Dzumsas and their members within its demarcated areas
are socially and politically accessible only to the Dzumsa male members and office bearers. This is
not a pluralistic, inclusive institution—rather it operates by restricting intervention or interference
from others—making and marking identity and territory are the core functions of the Dzumsa. As we
noted, there have been changes in the Dzumsa’s structure, functions and customary laws—but these
have all been in tune with the interest and wellbeing of the two Dzumsas and its members—rooted
in a “local-first” philosophy. This makes the Dzumsa partially exclusionary even within the
Lachungpa/Lachenpa community—excluding women, youth, other long-term local residents from
its decision-making membership. Even though excluded, they must conform to the institution’s
norms and dictates. In addition, as seen in the case of the hydropower project development plans,
the Dzumsas served to expel its leaders (the Pipons), announce and enact boycotts and the dreaded
Chya ceremony against its own members. This is how, as Colloredo-Mansfield analyzed, vernacular
statecraft operates and sustains an agonistic unity, which while imperfect, is hugely effective in
countering powerful translocal impositions. In continuing to be the sole recognized local institution
deciding every socio-economic, environmental and religious affair of the Lachungpas and Lachenpas
and their wellbeing—far more intense than the Panchayat System prevalent in the rest of Sikkim,
the Dzumsas continue to emerge and evolve as the center of the everyday life-worlds. The degree of
involvement is also what reveals the exclusionary side of this all-inclusive institution on grounds of
gender, indigeneity, ethnicity, and rationality. It reveals the authoritarian side of the Dzumsa, since
loyalty towards the collective and protecting unity and wellbeing of the locality has priority over any
other issue.
The fourth and final point we make here is on the plurality of identity. In addition to the divides
by gender, age and ethnicity that we discussed above, the Lachungpas and Lachenpas while being
a tightly-knit community are nonetheless two groups with particular forms of self-identification.
Shared understandings of place and territory, shared cultural values, beliefs and identities allow for a
remarkable solidarity between the two groups and yet, when the situation demands, this collective
trust and emotion can also turn into expressions of being different. The same can be said for internal
dynamics of the Lachungpas and Lachenpas themselves and how historically, loyalty and solidarity is
evoked through threat, fear and coercion—when the stakes are high. These dynamics of identity are
multiple and complex—like nested matryoshka dolls. Resistance against large dams in Lachen and
Lachung illustrates this complex politics of identity and place-based territoriality, whereby indigenous
identity is both a culturally rooted and a politically strategic construct. This complexity of identity is
unfortunately missing in many analyses of collective resistance against hydropower development in
the region.
Water 2019,11, 412 19 of 23
7. Conclusions
In this paper we have discussed how identity constructs, territoriality and cultural politics
by the indigenous Lachungpas and Lachenpas inform resistance to hydropower in North-Sikkim.
Resistance is deeply related to the defense of territory, collective identity, and local meanings, values
and modes of living and knowing. This defense is strategically organized around the traditional
system of self-governance, the Dzumsas. These execute a fundamental responsibility to keep the
Lachungpas/Lachenpas together. Dzumsas draw their power from the members to build unity,
and members draw their agency and voice from the Dzumsas. The Dzumsa gives legitimacy to the
collective identity of the Lachungpas and Lachenpas. Dzumsas mark the Lachungpas and Lachenpas
in terms of their distinct history, culture, traditions, their bounded, protected geographical areas
including their exclusive tribe status.
Despite local (and official) discourses pretending to “conserve” local indigenous identity, neither
this collective identity, nor its triangular relationship with territory and Dzumsas, are fixed and static.
Lachungpas and Lachenpas identities are rooted in history, local culture and permanence in the
territory, but equally shaped by confrontation with “the outside” (which obviously comes to form part
of local identity, culture and indigeneity). From merely being associated with place/location like it did
initially, the Lachungpa/Lachenpa identities have today transitioned to encompass and project their
territory, distinct culture, ways of living, traditions, traditional institutions including politics at all
levels—individual, relational and collective. Therefore, as we have shown, Lachungpas and Lachenpas
identities are both “real and rooted” as well as “real and strategic”; often, they are consciously
shaped and reshaped, as political actions that serve to defend against/from “outsiders/others”
(e.g., hydropower agents) and to protect specific territorial claims and local interests.
The politically-responsive, territorially-exclusive and ethnically-cohesive Dzumsa institutions
allow the Lachungpas and Lachenpas to assert enormous political strength. They reshape identity
and redefine (ancient) rules and sanctions and whenever necessary (re)create “convenient past”,
exclusionary relationships or deploy strategic cultural beliefs—evident in a sustained, unanimous
“no-hydropower” defense message in the region. Continuously maintained and updated collective
identity enables them to engage in fierce, successful collective actions. In times of modernist
commensuration through large-scale hydropower development (imposing a common metric to
determine “value”, “progress”, “development”, and “efficient hydro-territorial knowledge” [
the Dzumsas strategically respond with incommensurate cultural–political notions of animated
mountains and sacred territory, such as manifested in the Chya ritual practice. This way,
the Lachungpas and Lachenpas effectively engage in the battlefield of culture, knowledge and identity,
defending and at the same time reshaping their collective identity and territory.
This cohesion, collective identity and collective action and forced normativity, however, make the
Dzumsa both an all-inclusive and disciplinary as well as an exclusionary institution, in terms of gender,
indigeneity, ethnicity, and rationality. Loyalty towards the collective and protecting unity and wellbeing
of the locality has priority over any other issue. This, combined with deeply cultivated notions of
territoriality, also informs the Lachungpas/Lachenpas’ strict, unanimous no-hydropower stand. “Over
my dead body” assertions today by the Lachungpas and Lachenpas, in extremis manifested through the
enforcement of Chya, perhaps will keep hydropower development at bay. The irony of the Lachen and
Lachung case, one that may be witnessed in many other territories that face modernist encroachment,
is that powerful local exclusionary institutions seem to be able to construct forced unity—forms of
vernacular statecraft—that effectively counter translocal exclusionary institutions and projects, based
on neoliberal agendas of development.
Author Contributions:
R.D.D., D.J. and R.B. conceptualized and wrote the paper. R.D.D. framed the overall
research project and undertook the field investigation.
This research was funded by Department of International Development (DFID) through The Netherlands
Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) Grant Number W.O7.68.413.
Water 2019,11, 412 20 of 23
This paper would not be possible had it not been for the people of Lachung and Lachen for
allowing us, random researchers to be a part of their struggle in their guarded spaces and trusting us with their
stories. This paper is dedicated to the Lachungpas and Lachenpas of North Sikkim. We are sincerely grateful to all
the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments that went into strengthening our paper. We are also
thankful to Jaime Hoogesteger, Wageningen University, for his crucial reading suggestions that have helped shape
our paper.
Conflicts of Interest:
We declare no conflict of interest. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the
collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, and in the decision to publish
the results.
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... While several NWJMs build on experiences of environmental organizations that started in the Global North in the 1970s, movements from India to South Africa now deploy radically new river-society ontologies, practices and campaigning methods (e.g. Wals et al. 2014;Dukpa et al. 2019;Escobar, 2019) (see Box 1). ...
... In this political process it becomes crucial to understand how, why and with what effects rivers, as socionatural systems, are approached as subjectsnot only in terms of rivers being seen and experienced as subjects but also in how they are politically shaped into being as empowering or disempowering subjects (e.g. Arguedas 1964; Li 2013; Dukpa et al. 2019;Valladares and Boelens 2019). In fact, both marginal and dominant human groups seek to appropriate the moral agency of more-than-human rivers in cosmopolitical arenas (Ingold 2000;Stengers 2010). ...
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Mega-damming, pollution and depletion endanger rivers worldwide. Meanwhile, modernist imaginaries of ordering ‘unruly waters and humans’ have become cornerstones of hydraulic-bureaucratic and capitalist development. They separate hydro/social worlds, sideline river-commons cultures, and deepen socio-environmental injustices. But myriad new water justice movements (NWJMs) proliferate: rooted, disruptive, transdisciplinary, multi-scalar coalitions that deploy alternative river–society ontologies, bridge South–North divides, and translate river-enlivening practices from local to global and vice-versa. This paper's framework conceptualizes ‘riverhood’ to engage with NWJMs and river commoning initiatives. We suggest four interrelated ontologies, situating river socionatures as arenas of material, social and symbolic co-production: ‘river-as-ecosociety’, ‘river-as-territory’, ‘river-as-subject’, and ‘river-as-movement’.
... In the hydrosocial literature, and following a political ecology perspective, previous studies have focused on the imposition of infrastructure by hegemonic stakeholders in the name of modernity or modernisation (Kaika, 2006;Boelens and Post Uiterweer, 2013;Banister and Widdifield, 2014;Duarte-Abadía et al., 2015;Swyngedouw, 2015;Hommes and Boelens, 2018;Swyngedouw and Boelens, 2018;Duarte Abadía et al., 2019;Jackson and Head, 2020). Recently, this literature has tackled the question of modified or abandoned hydraulic projects in relation to successful opposition campaigns (Dukpa et al., 2019;Hidalgo-Bastidas and Boelens, 2019;Shah et al., 2019b). In addition to the hydrosocial literature, Peyton's (2011) study on a Canadian scheme in British Columbia (launched at the end of the 1970s) sheds light on the effects of unbuilt schemes and reflects upon the "unbuilt environments" they produce. ...
... To contribute to the understanding of modern water's perpetuation, this paper takes a step back in time and asks what can be learned from the study of two dam projects which were among the first in the world to be cancelled due to environmental protests. While some studies in the hydrosocial literature have begun to identify the reasons for success in anti-dam campaigns (Dukpa et al., 2019;Shah et al., 2019b), this paper analysed the evolution of water ontologies during and after controversies which led to the abandonment of dam projects. ...
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Many new dam projects are presently being put forward, revealing both the comeback of large hydraulic infrastructure and the resilience of the modern ontology of water. To contribute to the understanding of modern water’s perpetuation, this paper takes a step back in time and looks at the cases of two dam projects which were cancelled during the 1980s due to environmental protests: the Loyettes Dam on the Rhône River in France and the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam on the Gordon River in Tasmania, Australia. Previous studies in the political ecology of water have paid attention to opposing discourses, representations, imaginaries and, more recently, to ontologies when considering conflicts involving modern water. This paper further explores the contestation of modern water that occurred in the late twentieth century. It focuses not only on pre-existing ontologies of water but also on the production of water ontologies during and after sociotechnical controversies. It does so by 1) asking how modern water seeks to maintain itself, and 2) questioning the rise of alternative water ontologies. The discussion identifies different water ontologies which vary in a continuum from nonmodern to modern; it also connects them with ways of being with the environment in general. The study concludes that while controversies may result in the transformation of planning practices and changes in water ontologies, the hegemony of modern water is only partially challenged by successful anti-dam movements.
... This situation highlights the issues experienced by these evolving nation-states as the influence of past systems still casts a shadow in the effort to adopt the new system. For instance, in Asia and Africa, countries like India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, and Sudan still feel the impact of their deep-rooted traditional governance systems (Nurjaya, 2015;Dukpa et al., 2019;Barber, 2020;Iqbal & Alam, 2020;Prabowo, 2020). On the other hand, in Latin America, countries like Venezuela and Bolivia encounter challenges in adopting democracy due to tendencies to revert to past political traditions (Mainwaring, 2012;Wolff, 2013). ...
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This study aims to examine and analyze the constitutionality of the electoral system to the relevance of the philosophische grondslag and staatsfundamentalnorm of Pancasila and to investigate the constitutional ideological degree of the electoral system in Indonesia. This study uses normative legal research with a statute, historical, and comparative approaches. The collection of legal materials is carried out using a literature study technique. The collected legal material is then qualitatively analyzed to describe the problem and answer study purposes. The results show that the constitutionality of the PR system in Indonesian state governance is an effort to create an inclusive and democratic government. However, since the Reform Era and the post-amendment of the 1945 Constitution, the moral values of Pancasila are embedded in the preamble of the 1945 Constitution as philosophische grondslag and staatsfundamentalnorm, its implementation has not been realized in every subject matter. Additionally, Pancasila should be the standard measure of the ideological degree of the electoral system in Indonesia. Therefore, it is recommended that the Government and the House of Representatives prioritize implementing Pancasila’s moral values in the electoral system by amending the 1945 Constitution and Law Number 7 of 2017. Implementing Pancasila’s values must be concretely realized in each main subject regulated in the body of the 1945 Constitution and the norms of Law Number 7 of 2017. Furthermore, systematic evaluations of Indonesia’s electoral system should be carried out periodically to ensure alignment between the electoral system and Pancasila as the country’s ideological foundation. Thus, the design of the electoral system will become an ideological means for realizing national goals based on Pancasila ideology in the future.
... Hydropower is a type of renewable energy with flexible operation and mature technology, which is clean, low carbon, and has been favored by countries all over the world [1,2]. With more than 9000 hydropower dams registered across all continents, it supplies almost 70% of all renewable energy globally [3][4][5]. As of the end of 2019, the world's total installed hydropower capacity stood at about 1308 GW. ...
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With the gradual opening of China’s electricity market, it is effective for cascade hydropower plants to simultaneously participate in both the monthly contract market and the day-ahead spot market to obtain higher power generation benefits. Hence, this paper studies the optimal decomposition model for the monthly contracted electricity of cascade hydropower plants considering the bidding space in the day-ahead spot market. The close hydraulic and electric connection between cascade hydropower plants, the implementation requirements of contracted electricity, and the uncertainty of the day-ahead market clearing price are all well considered. Several linearization techniques are proposed to address the nonlinear factors, including the objective function and the power generation function. A successive approximation (SA) approach, along with a mixed-integer linear programming (MILP) approach, is then developed to solve the proposed model. The presented model is verified by taking the decomposition of the monthly contracted electricity of cascade hydropower plants in China as an example. The results indicate that the developed model has high computational efficiency and can increase the power generation benefits compared with the conventional deterministic model. The effect of the penalty coefficient for imbalanced monthly contracted electricity is also evaluated, which provides a practical reference for market managers.
... At the same time, imaginaries can also be strategically created and mobilized to institute or contest territorial projects (Fry & Murphy, 2021;Jaramillo, 2020;Meehan, 2013;Swyngedouw, 2015). Accordingly, struggles over territories need to be understood as struggles over imaginaries and associated identities, subjectivities and meanings that concern the wished-for hydrosocial territorial order and the ways of life that are regarded as 'good' and desirable (and those that are not) (Dukpa et al., 2019;Molle et al., 2009;Ž enko & Menga, 2019). ...
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Infrastructures and their roles and connections to and in territories and territorialization processes have increasingly become objects of study in political geography scholarship. In this contribution, we build on these emerging insights and advance them by further conceptually disentangling the agential role of infrastructure. We bring together the notions of territory, governmentality, imaginaries and subjectivities, to clarify how exactly hydraulic infrastructure acts to transform relations between space, people and materiality. We start by introducing territorialization as a process of ‘ordering things’ in a certain space and time through different techniques of government. When then show how, at the base of such territorialization processes, are imaginaries that contain normative ideas about how space and socio-territorial relations should be ordered. Imaginaries are consequently materialized through hydraulic infrastructure through the inscription of morals, values and norms in infrastructure design, construction and operation. This set of materialities and relations embedded in infrastructure brings changes to the existing relations between space, water and people. In particular, we highlight the repercussions of infrastructure for how people understand and relate to each other, the environment, water, technology and space: in other words, how subjectivities change as an effect of hydraulic infrastructure constitution. Last, we show how infrastructure and the related hydrosocial territories that develop around it are a dynamic arena of contestation and transformation. We argue that socio-material fractures, emerging counter-imaginaries and the disruptive capacities of subjectivities constantly challenge the ‘fixes’ that infrastructures aim to inscribe in hydrosocial territories. Throughout the paper, we use empirical examples from recent research on hydraulic infrastructure and territorial transformations to ground the conceptual ideas.
... Conflicts also emerge in response to infrastructure projects such as the construction of dams or the building of roads. For example, in India, Adivasi peasants opposed the construction of dams on the Narmada River that would inundate their riverbed fields (Doma et al., 2018). Brazilian Amazonian Indigenous peoples opposed the Belo Monte dam project and obtained a favorable decision from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Jaichand and Andrade, 2013). ...
Largescale “big” water infrastructure is once again at the forefront of the global developmentalist agenda and is receiving attendant scholarly attention. Given this parallel growth, now is time to take stock of current scholarly contributions and explore opportunities for future research. In this paper, I review recent developments and insights gained from research on big water infrastructure, and water infrastructure studies, generally, to highlight six key threads of current scholarship. These include the production of big water infrastructure as: (1) a temporal process embedded in colonialism and ecological modernization; (2) infused with infrastructural knowledges, practices and subjectivities; (3) a spatial‐geopolitical process; (4) subject to infrastructural and environmental material characteristics and capacities; (5) producing uneven development and enabling accumulation by dispossession; and (6) a contested process of differentiated socio‐material resistance. In reviewing this literature, I argue that these six research strands form key analytic considerations that could be employed by others studying the nexus between water development, political ecological change, and infrastructure. Before concluding, in the final section of the paper I present additional and ongoing future research directions including big water infrastructure as it intersects with socially differentiated human intimacy and embodiment, indigenous and racialized forms of dispossession, and financialization.
It is undeniable that our environment is constantly evolving and citizens are facing new issues and challenges related to the environment around the world. Green governance is essential to achieve the goals agreed upon by local and global governments. The concept of green governance makes it possible to understand the integration of the actors of each governance form during decision-making. In this article, we identify the research gap and propose a taxonomy of green governance for sustainable development. We used factor analysis to construct the taxonomy of green governance. We also proposed the critical influencing factors of green governance to build sustainable development. To evaluate the importance of green governance for reducing CO2 emissions and other energy-related consumption, this study conducted two case studies with empirical analysis on the OECD Indian dataset of green growth indicators. The Indian green growth indicators are predicted using a machine learning technique that employs linear digression, support vector machine (SVM), and Gaussian process. The analysis shows that the taxonomy of green governance—global governance, adaptive governance, climate governance, ecological governance, self-governance, energy governance, and information technology (IT) governance—are related to each other and can work on the same objective by pursuing different activities. In addition, the case study analysis shows that the SVM is the superior technique in terms of predicting the time series data in this study. Based on the analysis, this study suggest that green governance is vital for achieving global sustainable goals for future growth, and policy-makers should keep this in mind when making environmental policy decisions.
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Water governance is understood as a set of political, organizational and administrative processes and strategies, within predefined structures, that lead to decision-making. These decisions produce scales that go beyond management planning units and constitute networks of power that articulate different players according to the interests and objects under negotiation. Thus, it is understood that water governance transcends the physical boundaries of the planning units and assumes dynamic, flexible and multiscale configurations that reflect hydro-social relations. In this sense, the concept of hydro-social territory, which comprises socio-environmentally and spatially delimited and activated multiscale networks to ensure access to water, could provide the basis for new water governance practices. KEYWORDS: Water governance; Water basins; Hydro-social territories; Multiscaling; Multidimensionality
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Hablar de la biopolítica del agua y las relaciones del hidropoder en América Latina, supone entender la dinámica básica de las relaciones de poder y las prácticas de la región en el tema del agua, sus procesos de securitización en las agendas de seguridad nacional y sus ámbitos seguridad en la producción, industrialización, minería, alimentaria y de uso común. De modo que se procede hablando del tema y sus vertientes dentro de una significación biopolítica, una descripción de los procesos de gobernanza y gubernamentalización del agua en América Latina, su descripción como un recurso estratégico en América Latina para luego observar en el plano regional la estructura del hidropoder y la hidrohegemonía en las relaciones internacionales de América Latina y América del Norte. Por otra parte, se apunta la complejidad de los procesos de identidad, justicia y movilización social dentro de los que se verifica el deterioro de de las relaciones comunitarias por parte de los proyectos de modernización de la infraestructura y los problemas con el extractivismo como parte de la conflictiva ambiental y social en la lucha por la justicia en el tema del agua y como parte de una contrahegemonía en lo nacional e internacional. Los impactos de las interacciones hidrohegemónicas que tematizan un giro hacia el “capitalismo verde" en América Latina y los impactos que ceden los procesos en temas que son parte de la estructura de desigualdad, que nos muestra los paisajes y sus relaciones con la necropolítica en términos de la migración forzada, el deterioro ambiental, la expulsión poblacional, el trafico de drogas, de metales, de energéticos y el el extractivismo de recursos naturales estratégicos que acarrea problemas como el infanticidio, el juvenicidio, la trata de personas, etc.
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The Misicuni multipurpose hydraulic project was designed to transfer water from a neighboring watershed to the Cochabamba Valley in the center of Bolivia for domestic, hydropower, and agricultural use. The project involved the construction of a 120 m high large dam and a 19 km transfer tunnel, which negatively affected the rural indigenous host communities that were deprived of productive lands, houses, and livelihoods. This article critically analyzes the process to compensate for harmful effects, demonstrating the existence of divergent knowledge systems, interpretations, and valuing of what was affected and how the impacts had to be compensated. The analysis shows that the compensation was fundamentally a process of negotiation about the meaning and the contested commensuration that was implemented in a context of unequal power relations between state institutions and the indigenous population. This led to unfavorable arrangements for the affected communities. The article details the discussions about impacts, knowledge, and values of key elements of the compensation process and highlights how “compensation” was embedded in the wider struggle over territorial control and natural resource governance. The unreliability of the state institutions worsened the negative impacts for the rural communities because the negotiated outcomes were not always materialized.
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Locally and globally, mega-hydraulic projects have become deeply controversial. Recently, despite widespread critique, they have regained a new impetus worldwide. The development and operation of large dams and mega-hydraulic infrastructure projects are manifestations of contested knowledge regimes. In this special issue we present, analyze and critically engage with situations where multiple knowledge regimes interact and conflict with each other, and where different grounds for claiming the truth are used to construct hydrosocial realities. In this introductory paper, we outline the conceptual groundwork. We discuss ‘the dark legend of UnGovernance’ as an epistemological mainstay underlying the mega-hydraulic knowledge regimes, involving a deep, often subconscious, neglect of the multiplicity of hydrosocial territories and water cultures. Accordingly, modernist epistemic regimes tend to subjugate other knowledge systems and dichotomize ‘civilized Self’ versus ‘backward Other’; they depend upon depersonalized planning models that manufacture ignorance. Romanticizing and reifying the ‘othered’ hydrosocial territories and vernacular/indigenous knowledge, however, may pose a serious danger to dam-affected communities. Instead, we show how multiple forms of power challenge mega-hydraulic rationality thereby repoliticizing large dam regimes. This happens often through complex, multi-actor, multi-scalar coalitions that make that knowledge is co-created in informal arenas and battlefields.
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Rapidly expanding hydropower development in areas prone to geological and hydro-climatic hazards poses multiple environmental and technological risks. Yet, so far these have received scant attention in hydropower planning processes, and even in the campaigns of most citizen initiatives contesting these dams. Based on qualitative empirical research in Northeast India, this paper explores the reasons why dam safety and hazard potential are often marginal topics in hydropower governance and its contestation. Using a political ecology framework analyzing the production of unequal risks, I argue that a blind-eye to environmental risks facilitates the appropriation of economic benefits by powerful interest groups, while increasing the hazardousness of hydropower infrastructure, accelerating processes of social marginalization. More specifically, this paper brings into analytical focus the role of strategic ignorance and manufactured uncertainty in the production of risk, and explores the challenges and opportunities such knowledge politics create for public resistance against hazardous technologies. I posit that influencing the production of knowledge about risk can create a fertile terrain for contesting hazardous hydropower projects, and for promoting alternative popular conceptions of risk. These findings contribute to an emerging body of research about the implications of hydropower expansionism in the Himalayan hazardscape.
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Abstract: Lawrence Cox (1999) has argued that the established perspectives on social movements operate with an inadequately narrow conception of the ‘object’ that is being studied and thus tends to ‘reify’ “movements” as usual activity against essentially static backgrounds, and in its place, he advocates a concept of social movement as the more or less developed articulation of situated rationalities. Following Cox, therefore, the present study perceives social movements as articulations of situated rationalities by perceiving them as a tactical, dialectical response to the harsh realities of the political system. This would help us capture the essential dynamic and transformative aspects of the movement. Any social movement, and for that matter, environmental movements are characterized by the presence of agencies and structural components, which, however, are not a priori and static. They are rather dynamic and get changed and transformed in the course of the movement. Precisely for this reason, the environmental movements can at best be comprehended by way of locating and analyzing the dynamism and transformations of the movements produced by the dialectical interaction of the various components and parameters of the movement over a span of time. Hence, the present paper aims to evaluate the dynamics and transformations of the environmental movements in India, taking the case of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, and, adopting a strategic relational approach within the agent-structure framework as its framework of analysis. For the present purpose, however, we have taken only two variables, namely, Ideology and Leadership and attempted the analysis of their contributions in producing movement dynamics.
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Introduction In this chapter, we explore how changing political visions, socio-cultural imaginaries and hydro-territorial configurations interact with shifting practices of water justice. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates comments that justice is what those in power consider just. Over the centuries, this statement has haunted any discussions and efforts to create a fairer society. Recent social-justice debate has extended to include the physical world as an integral component in structuring just/unjust socio-ecological relations. This chapter examines how hydro-territorial politics finds expression in the diverse actors’ confluences and encounters with spatial and political-geographical projects that compete, superimpose and align their territorialization strategies to strengthen their governance positions, ideologies and water-control claims. This continuously transforms the territory’s hydraulic grid, cultural reference frames, economic base structures and political relationships. Territorial struggles go beyond battles over natural resources per se, as they also involve conflicts over meaning, norms, knowledge, decision-making authority, representations and discourses. Policy actors commonly tend to present socio-natural, geopolitical territories as mere biophysical “nature” or legal-administrative “governance units,” portraying water problems and solutions as politically neutral, technical and managerial issues to be objectively managed through “rational water use” and “good governance” - a conscious or unconscious veil to legitimize deeply political choices sustaining specific political orders (Harris, 2009; Hommes et al., 2016; Perreault, 2014). Challenging such powerful conventions, we examine the contradictions, conflicts and societal responses generated by the configuration of hydrosocial territories (see Boelens et al., 2016; Swyngedouw and Williams, 2016); how water politics are ingrained in such socio-natural and techno-political arrangements, enhancing or challenging unequal distribution of resources and decision-making power in water governance (Boelens, 2015; Swyngedouw, 2015). Therefore, hydrosocial territories (imagined, planned or materialized) have contested functions, values and meanings as they define processes of inclusion and exclusion, development and marginalization, and the distribution of benefits and burdens that affect different groups of people in distinct but often deeply unequal manners. Taking the co-production of “nature and society” in twentieth-century Spain as our entry point, we seek to elucidate the relationship among transformations in and of “hydrosocial territory,” the state, and the contested modernization, and to tease out the multiple power relationships that enroll, transform and distribute water. In doing so, we seek to excavate how nature becomes political and, through this, how environmental reconfiguration parallels ongoing state transformation (Swyngedouw, 2014; cf. Carroll, 2012; Perreault et al., 2015).
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Academic research and media tend to emphasize the strong opposition to hydropower development in Sikkim, India, and position this as resistance to an environmentally-destructive, trans-local development, particularly by the culturally-rooted, ethnic minority Bhutia and Lepcha communities. There are several accounts of contestations of hydropower development projects in India’s Eastern Himalayan States – signifying robust and predictable indigenous people-place connections. Why then, was the implementation of the largest, Teesta Stage III Hydro Electric Project, located in Chungthang Gram Panchayat Unit in North Sikkim, in the heartland of the Bhutia-Lepcha region, not contested? In unraveling this anomaly, our focus is to understand how people-place connections are shaped and differentially experienced. Our findings are that hydropower development has elicited diverse responses locally, ranging from fierce contestation to indifference, to enthusiastic acceptance. The complexity and malleability of “place” and people’s “sense of place” provide evidence that indigeneity does not always indicate resistance to large-scale project interventions. In ethnically and socio-politically fractured communities like Chungthang, trans-local developments can reinforce ethno-social divides and disparities, and re-align traditional place-based ethno-centric solidarities along new politically-motivated lines. We argue that linear, one-dimensional views of local social coalescence around place belie more complex relations, which evolve dynamically in diverse socio-cultural and politico-economic contexts.
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Ecuador’s recently adopted conflict resolution techniques have aggravated the always tense encounters between Amazonian indigenous communities, oil companies and the state. The state’s governmentality project portrays these socio-environmental conflicts as mere technical–managerial issues while societal coalitions re-politicize them through territorial defense struggles. The Cofán Dureno case highlights how the self-proclaimed ‘Citizen’s Revolution’ government seeks to redefine socio-natural relationships and territorial identities, devising ‘communities of convenience’. These correspond to the state’s own images, political structure and ideology, promoting ‘community participation’ to facilitate oil extraction. Ecuador’s constitutionally recognized Rights of Nature (paradoxically installed by the same government) are analyzed with a focus on their potential for resisting socio-environmental injustice. The internationally celebrated inclusion of these rights in the Constitution was advocated by nonindigenous intellectual activists but influenced and supported by the indigenous movement. Beyond legal implications, these rights might foster an epistemic pact between indigenous and nonindigenous society to defend territories from extractive industries.
This book brings together internationally known scholars from a wide range of disciplines and theoretical traditions, all of whom have made significant contributions to the field of race and ethnic relations. As well as identifying important and persistent points of controversy, the collection reveals a complementary and multifaceted approach to theorisation. The theories represented include contributions from the perspective of sociology. These range from the established perspectives of Marx and Weber through to the more recent interventions of rational choice theory, symbolic interactionism and identity structure analysis.
By combining scholarship on modernity, urbanization and territory, this paper analyses how urban-based visions and ambitions have been realized in hydropower development and specific water access and control arrangements in the Rímac watershed in Lima, Peru. The discourses that sustained and promoted hydropower plant construction and associated development projects in the watershed are scrutinized, showing how the dream of conquering nature through engineers' technical skills was enmeshed with political agendas and visions of modernizing not only nature, but also people. Besides the historical analysis, the paper also explores how historical physical-ecological, legal, social and symbolic reconfigurations continue to shape hydrosocial relations between the city of Lima and the Rímac watershed. Analysing the current management of the watershed's highland lakes and community water use from the hydropower company's tunnels shows how the history of the Rímac is not a clear cut story of water deprivation but rather of complex, entangled, multidimensional relations and dependence. In the context of increasing pressure on water resources, the socio-territorial arrangements and the watershed's history itself are becoming matters of discussion.