GUWAHATI, May 17 - The move of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) under the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India to shut down the Guwahati Regional Office and merge it with the Shillong Regional Office has raised concerns over the Centre’s approach vis-ŕ-vis promotion of diverse cultural wealth of the State and the Northeast.
The process for closure and merger of different regional centres – said to be part of a rationalization process – has already started. Ten regional offices of ICCR across the country will be retained, while the remaining offices will be merged with other centres.
The Guwahati centre, set up in 2009, has been playing a key role in preservation and promotion of traditional, folk and classical art forms of four northeastern states – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Nagaland, while the rest four northeastern states are under the Shillong centre’s jurisdiction.
Official sources told The Assam Tribune that irrespective of the intent of the Central government’s move, Assam in particular and the Northeast in general would be adversely hit by it. This is because the Northeast abounds in mind-boggling ethno-cultural diversity unique to the many tribes and sub-tribes inhabiting the region, and many of which live in remote and interior areas.
“The situation in the Northeast is unlike in other regions of the country. Its vast and unique art and cultural forms warrant wider focus, more so in view of the traditional neglect suffered by the remote region. The Guwahati office has been playing a dynamic role in promoting the artistes and giving them a platform and much-needed exposure. Having just one office for the entire region at Shillong will have the effect of reducing the accessibility of the artistes besides overburdening the Shillong office,” sources said.
Guwahati being the gateway to the Northeast, the logic behind closing down the regional office becomes bizarre and untenable, sources added.
In addition to its routine activities, the Guwahati centre has diversified and innovated its works in reaching out to the talented but poor and unheralded artistes and providing them exposure. Under its cultural exchange scholarship programmes, around hundred students from different countries of the world are pursuing studies in six institutions, including Dibrugarh University, IIT Guwahati, NIT Silchar, Tezpur University, Assam University Silchar and Assam Agricultural University.
“In a way the centre is taking care of – besides its cultural and academic mandates – the State’s tourism needs as well through enhanced people-to-people cultural linkage. The growing tourist footfall in the river island Majuli, in fact, has a lot to do with cultural visits facilitated through educational tie-ups. Cultural diplomacy is critical to promoting tourism in a culture-rich area like Assam,” sources said.
The worst sufferer of the ministry’s move will be the poor but talented artistes of Assam and the other states covered by the Guwahati centre. The centre has been facilitating the showcasing of the artistic skills of these people as the only platform accessible to them and its closure is bound to cause a huge communication gap, hindering promotion of art and culture in the process. The centre’s utility is also testified to by the growing number of empanelled artistes under it.
The Guwahati Regional Office supports the activities of different local cultural organizations as well. Every month it organizes the Horizon Series programme by the ICCR-empanelled artistes. In addition to looking after the foreign scholarship students studying in Assam, it promotes foreign self-financed students.