Around a year ago, as a part of my semester assignment, I had to make a survey, which focused on the demand of institutions like museums, as popular tourist hub. Out of interest and due to my own convenience, I had chosen Guwahati for the purpose and did the survey in some crowded places of the city, which have footfall of different classes of people. Though it was a very simple and unorganized survey conducted by me, but the findings were quite astonishing. In fact, it came out with some serious ongoing problem of the society i.e. death of museum like organizations, which are regarded as institutes, created for safeguarding the tangible and intangible heritage of the society worldwide.

The questionnaire used for the survey was very simple. It contained questions like whether the individuals have ever witnessed a museum or not; their frequency of visiting institutes like museums and finally their view as well as expectations from museums and other museum like institutes as tourist spot. As a surveyor I was looking forward to both positive as well as negative remarks from the people, but mostly the comments that came in were ‘visiting museums is a mere waste of money and museums should better be closed’; the replies were tough to digest for me – may be because I am a Museologist and feel the importance of museum like Institutes for execution of the proper image of the north-east region worldwide.

In a very recent statement, the Government of India has declared that by the end of 2020, tourism will be the most important agenda of the five-year plan of our country. That means our Government want to convert our country into a happening tourist hub. And to achieve this goal India has to be marketed worldwide with a retouch. From my point of view this won’t be a headache to the Government, as India, being the country of ‘Unity in Diversity’ is a very lucrative name for the world travelers. But my question is what status the North East hold in the master plan of achieving this target. It is well known to us that our beloved North-East is one of the most colorful regions of the country. The North-East being the perfect combination of age old tradition, ethnic culture and modernity, offers hundreds of different life-styles, topographical diversity and breath taking scenic beauty. But still, how many are there who exactly know and understand this region? Even majority of the rest of India, assumes it to be a very remote place full of uneducated or addicted people, living in tiny houses made of bamboo and wood. We make travel plans spending huge amount of money to visit Goa, Kashmir, hill stations of Uttarakhand or the colorful cities of Rajasthan. But how many people include the name of North East as a possible place to visit? There are numerous trains as well as flights running in between North-East and rest of India. But apart from the local people and the defense persons, we hardly get any tourist in the North east region of India. The average number of tourist are very few compared to rest of the parts of India Why?

The reason is very simple and clear, it is the lack of proper marketing of the region with effective marketing skills. The general image of North East is that it is a paradise of extremism. The threat of being killed or kidnapped has been so deeply rooted in the mind of the common people that the positive aspects of the area is always neglected. Hardly any efforts have been made to delete this general concept and to execute the actual picture. There is no detailed websites, travel planners or advertisement in the electronic media or the numbers are very few and it lacks in regular updates. News of North East in National news papers and televisions means nothing but that of North eastern girls being sexually harassed or cases somehow related to extremism. And most importantly there is hardly any scientific and properly maintained Museum like institutes for conserving the rich north-eastern heritage. If our richness is not properly conveyed (marketed), then how the rest of the world will know about us and if they don’t know, why they will come to explore our incredible north east. In the same way, if we don’t learn to respect our own tradition, then how can we expect that from others?

Gone are the days, when museums were regarded as a house of wonder (JADUGHAR). They are no more a concrete building containing rare artifacts. With the changes the world has undergone today, museums are regarded as a social institute which can be a link between our present and the past. Actually in other words, the concept of museums has gone beyond the four walls of a house, but it tries to create a sense of belonging and enables to think of our past, present and the coming future. As a result, museums without any artifacts or museums without any building have taken birth. What is sad but true is that in spite of having every possibility, our country and especially our region has gone through such an attitude. Most of the local people even after being educated and aware of degradation of our culture, is actually doing nothing. The government and the concerned ministries are happy by setting up state museums and few district museums in every state. They are not concerned for any post-development or to monitor the present situation of these museums. North –east has so many museum professionals, but everybody is working outside, just because they are not employed in their own places. Result, decreasing interest of people to visit museums and they are turning into some dull and boring social institutes.

But exceptions are there. Some individuals, without caring for any hindrance, are trying to capture our rich heritage through their collections. Mr. Durlabh Bora of Uttaran museum, Sivasagar is a worth mentioning figure in this aspect. With his personal effort, this man trying to collect objects which are associated with Assamese day to day life. He has such artifacts in his collections which we have either seen in pictures or have heard of in our grandmother’s stories, but have never seen with our naked eyes.
In this regard two more names can be highlighted whose commendable effort and work is praiseworthy. Madam Rongshilla from Dimapur (Nagaland) and Mr. Francis Belho from Kohima (Nagaland). These two persons have devoted their entire life for restoring Naga heritage, which is dying in fast rate with the advent of modernity. What Mr. Belho doesn’t have in his collection? Starting from Daggers and Dao used for head-hunting to chairs, entirely made of elephant bone, used by some Angami headhunter chieftains some hundred or two hundred years ago and from community wine container, capable of containing wine for 3-400 people to ornaments made of hornbill heads, teeth of cows, monkey skull, goat horn- everything is simply amazing as well as a treat to our eyes.

These three individuals are very normal people like us. What has made them different from others is their understanding of restoring our heritage as a dutiful citizen of this region. What they have received for it or their monetary gain is a different matter, but one day their effort is going to be our identity, and bring glory to our culture and heritage.

Now–a-days, with the revolution that the field of Museology has undergone museums are playing a great role in promoting tourism, especially in the west. Museums like Louvre of France or the Smithsonian Institutes of United States are prime attraction for the visitors which have a footfall of several lakh every year. On the contrary, India is far beyond the boundary of these types of revolutions, apart from the metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai. This is a very serious matter to look into. In spite of not having much cultural artifacts of their own along with a personalized tradition, the western countries they are serving with flying colors. In other words they are surviving on the basis of collection borrowed from others. In that case, why the North-east doesn’t come up with such presentation? The North-east has a very unique ambience of culture which the entire country can stand up for its pride. Assam has the largest as well as smallest river islands of the world, beautiful tea gardens and the only male river of India, the Brahmaputra. Nagaland has one of the largest Baptist towns of the world along with mind blowing orchid garden and the bitter memories of the Second World War. Arunachal Pradesh is a state, which have a different life style after every few miles. Meghalaya has the highest rainfall of the world. Tripura has the royal palaces with all types of sophistications. That means North-east have each and everything that can be a visual treat to the travelers eyes-from topographical diversity to scenic beauty and from rich historical background to unique ethnic life style. But still north-east is known for extremism. Why?

The answer is simple. It is because of us that we haven’t done enough justice to our region. We are admiring more the others instead of being proud of what we have. Besides, the government is ignoring its duty of taking such initiatives, promoting and encouraging the people. Our region doesn’t lack talent. But these talents should be identified, properly executed and should be given a platform. And while doing so the Government has one of the most important roles to play. Tourism should be given equal importance with foreign investment as it has the possibility of being a lucrative source of revenue with engagement of local population. Opening museums with a wide sphere, vision, mission and goals can be another fruitful option. Places like Majuli or the Nilachal Hill of Assam or the heritage village Kisama of Nagaland can be converted into museums without boundary. The Hornbill Festivals or the Raslila Mahotsab can be improved into a status equal to the Tomatina Festival of Spain. There are thousands and thousands of such other ideas if properly executed have the capability of changing the entire image of north east. Such efforts doesn’t require much money or funds, but needs a properly drafted plan of execution and a true mind for doing something good for this region without thinking of the extra money that can be earned through these projects.

Finally, Drafting some plans, giving lectures, organizing seminars or opening more and more museums is not a solution to this problem. We, the entire North-east should step forward to do something good with a pure mind along with a healthy work-spirit. What Durlabh Bora, Madam Rongshilla or Mr. Francis Belho is doing alone, should be done altogether. Otherwise it is better to put an end to what we are doing now in the name of promoting north-east, tourism, museums etc.

Abantika Parashar
Museologist, Assam