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National Foundation for India

Majuli Island

Majuli is the largest riverine island in the world and is home to a heterogeneous population comprising different tribal and non-tribal communities belonging to different religions. The island is under ecological threat due to land erosion, and this crisis is effecting Majuli’s unique culture and every aspect of people’s lives.

In order to develop new mechanisms to cope with change, the National Foundation is supporting AVARD-NE towards documenting the social, economic, cultural and environmental situation so that a model for initiating work in the region can be evolved. The project involves local community based organizations and seeks to create awareness on the critical environmental situation being faced throughout the country. One of the aims is setting up a training centre for development workers across the North East, who will apply the methods learnt, through the programmes on the island, to their own areas of activity.

With erosion being a major problem - to the extent that the island’s very existence is at stake - the AVARD team propose to launch a major advocacy effort across the country with National Foundation support in order to mobilize the resources required to save the island.

The Majuli island is under ecological threat due to land erosion effecting its unique culture and people’s lives. In order to develop new mechanisms to cope with change, the National Foundation is supporting AVARD-NE towards documenting the social, economic, cultural and environmental situation so that a model for initiating work and advocacy in the region can be evolved.

A special campaign to Save Majuli Through Art has been launched by the Foundation. The project aims to raise awareness on the situation and issues at Majuli by enabling a group of nationally known artists to visit the island and spend a week painting life there along with local artists at Majuli. The event would be covered in national and international media and an exbhition held of the resultant paintings, the proceeds of which would go towards saving the island.

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How You Can Help

National Foundation for India invites you to join us in supporting the joint campaign to Save the Majuli Island and its unique ecosystem. You can:

Save Majuli through Art Campaign

Majuli, in the Jorhat district of Assam, is the largest fresh-water river island in the world. The island, located in the Brahmaputra river, has a population of about 1.5 lakh people.

It was visited by Sankardeb, the Hindu reformer, sometime in the fifteenth century, and some of the most important monasteries of the Sankardeb faith (called satras) still exist, and have a wide following in the local community, and all over the state of Assam. These satras house valuable manuscripts, and are living embodiments of Vaishnav culture, with its rejection of idol worship and sacrifice, and its emphasis on culture - preserved in the form of bhaona, ankiya, ras-leela, etc . Even today, the education imparted to young devotees in various satras (Majuli has sixty- nine of them) emphasises art, culture and traditional values. Besides this, Majuli has a unique tradition of crafts and organic farming, without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides.

All this is under threat because of indiscriminate development in towns along the banks of the river Brahmaputra - large embankments built up to protect them from floods. The backlash of the current from the embankments is relentlessly lashing at the island, which is therefore losing land due to erosion at an alarming rate every year.If this is allowed to continue, in less than two decades we will have nothing left but memory.

It would require tremendous efforts and funds to save the island from extinction. One of the ways would be, by having it declared as a "World Heritage Site" by UNESCO, which would then raise the possibility of mobilising resources nationally as well as internationally. But more than this, and even to achieve this objective, it would be essential that awareness about Majuli comes into the consciousness of citizens across the country, especially the policy makers, the opinion leaders and those concerned with art, culture and conservation.

As part of its efforts to draw attention of such people to the possible fate of people of Majuli, the National Foundation for India in collaboration with its partner NGO, Association of Voluntary Agencies for Rural Development (AVARD-NE), plans to organise a week-long camp for the artists from all over the country at Majuli, from 10th to 18th November 1997.

It is proposed to get about 35 prominent artists to Majuli for the camp Save Majuli Through Arts. The Foundation will also invite some local artists and craftsmen to participate in the camp, to facilitate interaction with local artists as well as to enable visiting artists to learn about Majuli, its traditions, culture and art.

The artists would, in addition to the travel costs and local hospitality, be provided with two canvases along with paints. They would be expected to carry their own brushes and other material that they might require.

During their visit, the participants will be expected to paint two canvases. The paintings made during the camp will be taken to various cities in the country and possibly abroad, for exhibitions over the next one year to raise awareness about Majuli Island. At the end of the series of the exhibitions, the Foundation will hire services of a prominent agency to auction the works created during the camp. The reserved price of the works will be fixed in consultation with the artists.

The proceeds of the auction will be equally shared between the artists and the Foundation. The Foundation will use its share entirely on projects for protection of Majuli Island.

The project has evoked excellent response from a large number of artists. Several of them have offered to donate entire proceeds from the auction, for the case of Majuli. One of the well known art galleries from Delhi has offered to host the exhibition in Delhi and print a catalogue at its own cost.

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