Neglected xatras battling oblivion
When it comes to protecting xatra land from relentless encroachment, the Tarun Gogoi government has cut a sorry figure over the years. Even when the Congress was in power at New Delhi, the Prime Minister’s Office in January last year had to ask for details from the State government about steps taken to clear encroachments from xatra lands. Nothing much came out of that missive, though the Axom Xatra Mahasabha has quoted government figures of a staggering 6,576 bighas of xatra land continuing to be under illegal occupation. Recently the Mahasabha has written to the Prime Minister’s Office, urgently seeking a directive to get xatra land cleared of illegal Bangladeshi settlers. The likelihood of concrete measures on the ground remain slim, rather the issue may again be politicised in the assembly election by parties. It is a fact though, that many xatras are staring at bleak futures with little revenue for sustence, highly vulnerable to their land being grabbed by hordes of settlers and unscrupulous developers, with no security at all against marauding gangs of crimils. The problem is particularly acute in Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta, gaon and Morigaon, though xatras in several other districts too are under threat. The Xatra Mahasabha has also referred to the earlier report by Northeast Policy Institute (NPI) on xatra land encroachment, which had revealed disquieting figures. As much as 90 per cent and more land of Bordua xatra, Patekibori xatra, Rampur xatra, Bali xatra and Jania xatra were found under illegal possession three years back, so the situation must be worse now. Encroachers have grabbed 460 bighas of Barpeta xatra, 450 bighas of Adi Alengi xatra in Lakhimpur, 161 bighas of Vishnupur xatra in Goalpara and 195 bighas of Simalabari xatra in Bongaigaon, which are but a few examples of the worsening crisis. Even directives by the Gauhati High Court has failed to stir the State government to take action.
As if severe land encroachment is not enough, many xatras have also been hostage to gangs of thieves, dacoits and vandals. More than 800 xatras and thousands of mghars have been broken into and looted. Money and orments doted by devotees have been stolen from strongboxes, priceless manuscripts and religious artefacts have been destroyed in Somoriya, Patbausi, Gakkuchi, Sundaridiya and many other xatras. Xatradhikars who have protested this state of affairs, have in turn received death threats. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, in charge of the Home department, has time and again promised to strengthen the security of xatras and expedite probe into such crimil activities. All his promises have proved hollow, with the issue figuring in the Assembly to no avail. Crimils targeting xatras, mghars, temples and such other places of worship have hardly ever been identified, let alone bbed. When the State government has never shown any urgency in protecting xatras from land-grabbers and crimils, its benign neglect comes as no surprise when several other xatras battle flood and erosion damage. The situation is parlous in Majuli and Barpeta, with 12 historical xatras in Majuli lost forever and 22 others relocated, while as many as 24 xatras swept into oblivion by the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. Devotees across the State may have celebrated the 567th birth anniversary of Srimanta Sankardeva on Wednesday with much fervour — but for concerned observers, the gradual descent into oblivion of many xatras cannot but evoke dismay.