The shameful desecration of Don Bosco’s statue at Bharalumukh in Guwahati shows the level of intolerance public discourse and politics in Assam is descending to. A sullen mood had been building up among some local people about the State government’s move to install a statue of the 19th century Italian saint and educator among statues of Assamese reissance leaders and freedom fighters. Questions were being voiced as to whether the Congress government was pandering to the sentiments of Christian voters in the State. But hours before Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi could unveil the 8-foot tall statue on Friday morning, a large group of miscreants descended upon the venue, raised tiolistic slogans, manhandled security personnel and dumped the statue in the waters of Bharalu. Some BJP councillors and leaders have been arrested, which in turn has made the saffron party allege a Congress conspiracy. After all, the Bharalumukh police station is located just adjacent to the site of incident. The State government well knew which way the ill wind was blowing, but still went ahead. So was there a plot somewhere to let a situation of conflict develop over Don Bosco’s statue, and milk the expected negative fallout for all its political worth?
The intellectual bankruptcy of the Tarun Gogoi government has been exposed yet again in this incident. Not every English administrator who came to this part of the British Raj was a racist tyrant, not every European or American missiory a proselytiser hell-bent in only converting ‘heathens’ to Christianity. The glorious exceptions among them too may have come here with a different agenda, but indubitably fell in love with the place and its people. Miles Bronson spoke evocatively of the Assamese language flowing like the mighty Brahmaputra, gifting us the first Anglo-Assamese dictiory and spelling primer. than Brown and Oliver Cutter’s contribution in ringing in the modern age of Assamese literature with Orunodoi and other Baptist publications cannot be dismissed as mere exercises to make ignorant tives read the Bible in the long run. And what about John Berry White, the British army surgeon who served in Assam for 24 long years? Going back to Britain after retirement, he bequeathed his lifetime earnings of 50,000 rupees (worth at least Rs 5 crore in today’s currency) to help establish a medical school in Dibrugarh in 1900, which later grew to be the Assam Medical College. Should not the people of Assam get to see their statues more often, rather than in the institutions they founded or inspired?
As for the growing prejudice against ‘outsiders/others’ in the State, let us remember that a 9-foot tall bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi was installed in March this year at Parliament Street in London. Surely English tiolists should have taken umbrage at the statue of the ‘half-ked fakir who brought the British empire down’ installed at the heart of their capital. Then there is Tamil du, where British Army engineer Colonel John Pennycuick is not only a revered public figure, but even worshipped as a deity in some temples. Braving hostile weather and terrain, Colonel Pennycuick had helped divert the west flowing waters of Periyar river to the eastward flowing Vaigai, thereby bringing huge tracts of parched Tamil du to life. Acknowledging such ‘outsiders’ with gratitude and magnimity is the hallmark of all progressive societies. The Jesuits have established many educatiol institutes in India since the days of the British raj, from where a host of great men passed out to fight for the country’s freedom or contribute in different fields. The work of John Bosco’s Salesians in spreading education has been honoured in different countries. In Assam too, generations of students have passed out of Don Bosco institutes in Guwahati, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and other places — which needs to be recognised with a large heart.