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Voices We Do Not Hear
Shantanu Dutta | 09 Apr 2008

By ignoring peaceful protests like the one emanating from Majuli, the nation is sending out a very sad message that to be noticed and heard ; one has to be aggressive and violent.

The people of Majuli are angry. For years, their land , the world’s largest riverine island is having its land mass eroded by the Brahmaputra and no one is doing any thing about it. Not even the Prime Minister who represents Assam in the Rajya Sabha. And Majuli is not just another back water island; apart from being home to over two lakh people, it is also the heart and soul of Assamese culture and arts. In other wise violence prone Assam, if the agitation has remained peaceful, it can probably be attributed to the fact that the leadership of the movement so far has stayed with the Satradhikars—heads of traditional Vaishnavite Satras which are based in Majuli.

Part of the hurt and anger stems from the fact that they feel ignored. The religious heads have been agitating for long, but all that they get is promises that are not kept. Apparently the Prime Minister has promised to visit at least three times ever since he took office but he chose to cancel the trips at the last minute.

More should be read into the hurt of the Vaishnvite leaders of Majuli than is being perhaps read. For the Prime Minister’s repeated cancellations of his trip seem to be sending out a message that peaceful methods of conveying one’s demands are fruitless and go unheeded. It is true that the erosion of land by the Brahmaputra and other rivers like the Ganga is a complex problem and there may be no ready answers available. 255 But that does not negate the importance of a country’s leaders standing by its people. After cyclones, floods and earthquakes when leaders visit , it is not that they go with any lasting solutions. But even those visits, some looking pretty hypocritical in fact; still lend a bit of the healing touch that is sorely needed at those times.

By ignoring peaceful protests like the one emanating from Majuli, the nation is sending out a very sad message that to be noticed and heard ; one has to be aggressive and violent. Throw a few bombs and grenades; kill some innocent people and it will become a “law and order” problem at the very least and police, para military and army boots will com trampling down to make sure thing are in order. Be persistent – may be for decades and you will feted and invited for talks.

Witness for instance how the government is bending over backwards to negotiate with the NSCN factions , strtching the Indian constitution to the very limits of its elasticity so that the Naga demands can be solved. Or just look at the situation in Siachin where over Rs 60 million is spent every day to protect the territorial integrity of India – a glacier and a place where as was famously put once, not a blade of glass grows. Yet it is de rigeour for defense ministers to pay a visit there at least once in their tenure. But ask for the state to take to take some interest in a place where people actually live and not only that a place that is a virtual cultural treasure house fit for consideration as a world heritage site and suddenly no one has any time to visit and only a few measly crores is available as a grant.. It is a pity , is it not.

One cannot but connect the protest of the Vaishnavite seers without also reflecting on the changing trajectory of the Tibetan resistance. For decades, the Dalai Lama led the Tibetan resistance movement with an emphasis on non violence but the movement got no where. Now with the Dalai Lama ageing and no solution in sight, the Tibetan Youth Congress and other newer groupings have no use for the path of non violence. Before the peaceful Vaishnavite movement takes that route, we should take cognizance of a voice that we seem not to hear.