Organized Panel Session
The eastern Himalayan state of Sikkim has recently risen to fame as India’s first organic state and a bastion of environmentalism in the age of the Anthropocene. However, tourism campaigns around Green Sikkim flatten a more complex set of transecological histories that acknowledge the relatedness between human communities and indigenous and Buddhist spirits of the land. This panel, the first ever focused on Sikkim at the AAS, engages these histories by shifting terrains from rivers and mountains to forests and lakes to explore how Sikkimese communities envision their reciprocal relationship with the environment. Kachyo Lepcha begins by narrating the recent history of movements to stop massive hydroelectric projects on the Teesta River. Once propitiated by human communities due to its life-giving properties, today the Teesta is heavily dammed, representing the exploitation that fuels the Anthropocene. The second paper engages with the mountain that feeds the Teesta, Kanchenjangha. Rongnyoo Lepcha focuses on longtsoaks, stones that appear throughout the landscape as markers of respect presented by humans to the mountain, acknowledging the mountain’s influence in daily life. The third paper by Kalzang Bhutia delves into “Green Medicine,” a medical tradition based on Lepcha and Bhutia knowledge of and interaction with the forest. In the final paper, Mabel Gergan discusses the dangers of reducing landscape to territory in her discussion of recent geopolitical and religious tensions in Sikkim. Together these papers highlight layers of interactions and forms of knowledge that complicate centralized statist narratives and land claims on the Himalayan frontier.