The river Brahmaputra is one of the most important part of the cultural and social part of the life of the north-eastern state of Assam. The thespian Bhupen Hazarika in his songs have evoked the mighty river as the “holy site of great synthesis, Has for untold been propagating The message of unity and harmony” . The river which flows almost through the whole of the state is often revoked to symbolize unity and brotherhood among the various tribes living in the state. The government of Assam has decided to use the potential of the river as a tourist attraction. The state government is gearing for what it is calling as “the biggest river festival of India” with the name “Namami Brahmaputra” (Namami is a Sanskrit word meaning : I worship thee) starting from 31st March.
While everything looks fine with the festival but the image and symbols invoked in the promotional songs of the festival seems to have not gone down well with many communities living in the state. The state government has launched two promotional songs for the festival. One version of the song features filmstar Amitabh Bachchan and many well known bollywood singers and one Assamese version featuring singers from the state. The songs have been criticized for failing to showcase the diversitiy of the ethnically diverse state. An umbrella organization called the Tribal Sangha , has criticized the songs for failing to represent the Assamese society by not showing any of the ethinc communities in the songs.
The symbolism used in the songs and the naming of the event itself suggests that the Hindutva ideology is being forced upon, ignoring the rich diversity of the region. The word “Namami”, is a Sanskrit word which is not known in the region and is a direct pick from the “Namami Gange” project to clean the Ganges. Also the image of a women worshipping the earthen lamp by flowing it in the Brahmaputra is something most of the ethnic communities will not identify with. The caption used in the poster saying “Son of Brahma” is just one version to describe the river in the myths. The river even in its myths and focklores prevalent among various communities in Assam have multiple versions. A song showcasing the cultural heritage of a multi enthnic state should not be unidirectional but present the rich diversity of the state.
If we notice a series of events points to a design in the state after the coming of the BJP led government in the state in 2016. The noticfication of the state government for opening up of madrasas on Friday,is also one such decision. The state education minister, Himanta Bishwa Sharma, suddenly after being in the BJP government realized that this tradition is against the law of the land. We must remember that Mr. Sharma was the Education Minister in the state, in the previous Congress government. The practice of Madrasas being closed on fridays dates back to 1934, when Madrasa Education Board was set up under the colonial admintration. Another descion as mention above was decision to make Sankrit compulsory in the the Schools upto class VIII, a move opposed by many powerful organizations in Assam like the All Assam Students Union(AASU), Asom Jatiyotabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad and the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti. Only the RSS affiliated organization Akhil Bharatiya Bidyarthi Parishad seems to be pleased with the idea.
In its short period of running the state government in Assam, a pattern seem to be emerging where there is a tendency to present the state as homogenized entity from the lens of Hindutva. The Namami Brahmaputra festival in its promotion fails to demonstrate the presence of multiplicity of cultures in the region and in light of other policies, it looks more like the state of Assam must be ready for more imposition of brahmanical Hinduism(Hindutva).
Deep Moni Gogoi, Research Scholar (PhD), Department of History, Sikkim University, Gangtok