2020 - Ongoing
Majuli is the world’s largest inhabited island lies in the mighty Brahmaputra River, in the state of Assam, North-East India. The island has approximately 170.000 inhabitants. Every monsoon, the island is under threat due to the extensive soil erosion on its banks. Much of the land is underwater for months swallowing large chunks of land. In the last 100 hundred years, the island has been eroded at an unexpected pace — probably because of the changing climate, the massive deforestation and the incorrect regulation policy of the river. By today, slowly but steadily it has been shrinking to one-third of its original size. Since 1991, over 35 villages have been washed away and thousands left their homes. Surveys predict that in 20 years from now, Majuli would cease to exist.
The reason for this magnitude in erosion is still uncertain, but probably is due to the large embankments built in neighbouring towns upriver, and the incorrect and irresponsible regulation system of the upper parts and anabranches. Massive deforestation in upstream areas also loosened topsoil and increased the sediments carried by the river, leading to the current situation. Not scientifically proven yet, but according to locals, the problem of Majuli is probably caused by the changing climate and a series of bad decisions made by policymakers in India, or even in China.
In the meantime, local people do a heroic fight with nature and time to protect their land and culture. I visited Majuli in the middle of the dry season in January 2020 to experience how locals prepare for a more dangerous and unpredictable monsoon season. In this period of the year, villagers voluntarily fill sandbag embankments all along the affected banks of the Brahmaputra and anabranches. The environment is pretty calm this season.
Fighting with the river is a way of life there. People respect the river and its floods because without excessive water there will be no rich harvest on the rice fields. On the other hand, this excessive water might ruin their bamboo houses, and a unique culture they nurture for ages. Mishing people is the biggest tribe on the island. Their everyday life still relies on the nature of the river. This contradictory fight against ( and for ) the river makes me think about the connection between nature and humankind. Nature plays its role without questions, and our land is more fragile than we think.
I plan to revisit the island during and after the monsoon and make a deep reportage about the island and its story
There are 3 stages of this project.
I am planning to visit the island in every season, at least 3 times:
1. During the more calm dry season when everyone prepares for the flood, building protection around their villages. To experience the everyday life of the community (I already visited last year January - February)
2. During monsoon when there is a significant flood; This is the most important stage, visiting families whose homes are affected by Brahmaputra, possibly for a minimum of 3 weeks. (June - July 2021)
3. After the monsoon, see how the land altered after the flood, revisit the same families, and also travel along the Brahmaputra finding out the origin of the problem. (September - October 2021)