Will Majuli get World Heritage status this time?

May 15th, 2008 - 11:30 am ICT by admin  

Guwahati, May 15 (IANS) Assam is hoping that Unesco will this time accord World Heritage Site status to South Asia’s largest river island of Majuli, which is located in the state and is an important seat of Vaishnavism. “We hope the World Heritage Committee that is meeting in Quebec, Canada, in July would positively consider granting Majuli the unique status it deserves. We have submitted all documents and information sought by the committee,” said a Lok Sabha MP from Assam, Arun Sarma, who is among those pushing the case.

Unesco itself is keen on preserving the flood-prone Majuli and its Satriya culture - the island has several satras or Vaishnavite monasteries set up by the 16th century philosopher-saint Sri Sankaradeva.

The world body has sanctioned $20,000 to prepare a dossier on the island, its people, culture and society. Majuli is located about 320 km east of Assam’s main city of Guwahati and suffers extensive flooding and erosion every year.

Activists like Sarma, who is also president of the Majuli Island Protection and Development Council (MIPADC), said the Indian government must depute a representative to present Majuli’s case at the 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee at Quebec between July 2 and 10.

“In fact, the Assam government should also send a representative and there should actually be an Indian delegation to the meet to place the case of Majuli in perspective,” said Sarma.

The committee will consider requests for the inscription of new sites on Unesco’s World Heritage list and examine the state of conservation of sites already inscribed on the list.

It is chaired by Christina Cameron, who has headed Canada’s delegation to the World Heritage Convention since 1990, making her the longest-serving head of any of the delegations.

Unesco had earlier asked for additional information on how Majuli can be protected from disasters like flood and erosion. The authorities have since presented documents and plans detailing the flood and erosion risk management efforts being undertaken by the central government.

Majuli, with a population of about 150,000, once covered a prosperous 1,500 sq km that was dotted with Hindu monasteries. This was some time before India’s independence in 1947.

Today Majuli is in danger - the island is now reduced to half its original size and is prone to extensive flooding and erosion.

The threat to Majuli’s existence began in 1950 after a severe earthquake shifted the riverbed and caused massive silting that in turn led to heavy erosion, especially during the rainy season.

Majuli has remained the cultural capital of the Assamese civilisation since the 16th century with the visit of social reformer Sankaradeva, who preached a form of Hinduism called Vaishnavism and established satras on the islet.

The monasteries apart, the island is known for its exotic pottery products made from beaten clay and burnt in driftwood-fired kilns. Sociologists have stressed the preservation of this unique art form and the people of the island whose culture and dance forms are untouched by modernism.

Despite virtually being cut off from the mainland, the islanders of Majuli have been able to preserve its distinct identity and hence its uniqueness.

The Indian government last year proposed to Unesco that Majuli be accorded international recognition. In its recommendations, New Delhi said Majuli deserves to be listed as a World Heritage Site for its “great cultural landscape and a site of outstanding universal properties”.

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