Land erosion hurdle in Majuli’s claim

GUWAHATI, June 14 – The world’s biggest human-inhabited river island Majuli within Jorhat sub-division, despite being a repository of the unique Vaishnavite culture and tradition, may indeed find the going uphill in getting UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Site even as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has mounted a fresh initiative to get it listed, disclosed Prof Christopher Young, an e-mail received here from London said.

Prof Young, who is a UNESCO expert on world heritage sites and Head of the World Heritage and International Policy, Department of English Heritage, was speaking at the Nehru Centre in London on Saturday night while releasing the international edition of coffee table book Assam published by Nanda Talukdar Foundation of East Sarania, Guwahati.

The book, which has been well received in the domestic market, is presently making steady inroads in the international arena. The Nehru Centre of UK along with the Assamese community had taken upon themselves to get the book released in London where Prof Christopher Young, Lord Anit Dholakia and renowned poet Elizabeth Dercy Zones, among others, took part.

Prof Young, though a self-professed Assam lover, nevertheless sheepishly admitted that he had never visited Assam so far, but had fallen in love with the State, specially after getting involved with the Majuli project. “I am really excited about Majuli, and this book has made my effort to get the World Heritage Site tag even easier for me,” admitted Prof Young.

Prof Young is consulted by the UNESCO every year before including any new place as World Heritage Site and most of the Asian sites are listed only after his recommendation. “The problem with Majuli is that it is beyond preservation. World heritage sites obviously need to be preserved and the tag helps in better preservation. But Majuli is beyond that. That is the real problem for UNESCO. Going by other yardsticks of culture and tradition, it would have been much easier,” he reasoned.

River island Majuli is being constantly eroded by the mighty Brahmaputra and this has made its case more difficult while trying to make its way into the World Heritage Site list. There has been a growing campaign back in Assam for almost a decade, but concerted and organised efforts by the authorities concerned have been under way with the help of Prof Young only since 2008. The first such effort was launched in 2004, when it was kept in the Tentative List.

Majuli is home to a number of Vaishnavite sattras (monasteries) which are run by a complex tradition with a 500-year-old lineage.

“The ASI is once again building up the case this year and I am surely going to back it up. In this connection I believe coffee table book Assam will be immensely helpful in clearing that hurdle. So I am confident,” opined Prof Young.

The Central Government has once again renominated Majuli river island for inscription in the World Heritage Site list under the ‘Cultural Landscape’ category. After losing the battle in 2006, Majuli returned and gave a stiff fight in 2008 and 2010, and now again in 2011.

“Hopefully, Majuli will be successful this time” he said, a sentiment echoed by Lord Dholakia, whose love for the State took him to Assam. “It is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It is simply a paradise on earth. The time is ripe to promote tourism and the book has come out at the most opportune moment, especially for the non-Assamese audience,” he said, adding that on Monday there will be a full scale seminar on Assam at the House of Lords.

Another Assam lover, Elizabeth Darcy Zones, who is a poet, attended the function which was followed by a lively Bihu dance presented by Ranjit Gogoi’s troupe. As per her own confession, poet Zones finds the lush tea gardens of Assam very inspiring. She plans to visit Assam next year to pen a potful of poems about tea growers and the ‘cuppa that cheers’.

“I am thinking of visiting Assam in 2012 as my next volume of poems will have a section devoted to Assam tea. Given Assam’s importance in tea culture and production and the whole ritual of tea drinking, I need to step into the landscape and meet some of Assam’s tea people,” Elizabeth said while thanking the book for helping her to understand Assam tea better.

Prominent London-based journalist of The Telegraph Amit Roy and Managing Editor of Assam, Mrinal Talukdar then took the floor for an interactive session with the jam-packed audience at the Nehru Centre in a bid to change the negative perception about Assam.

The evening was organised by the Nehru Centre of the UK-based Indian Embassy along with Rini Kakati on behalf of the Assamese community of London.