Guwahati’s Rongali festival unleashes regional exuberance for a new era
Those familiar with Guwahati are familiar with the bustle of this urban sprawl that straddles the mighty Brahmaputra and embraces the hills of Meghalaya. Guwahati is a natural melting pot of a myriad of Northeastern ethnicities, cultures and religions. This is where the hard work of the plains meets the creativity of the hills. Yet from the 1990s until very recently, the town was part of the Assam-wide Disturbed Area Notification which operationalized the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Admittedly, the dark and bloody days of the insurgency have slowly faded over the years. And unlike Manipur where AFSPA was implemented with full force, Assam has gradually gained an air of near normality.
In fact, over the past decade, people would have struggled to identify the signs of draconian law in Guwahati. It was against this backdrop of relative calm and great strides made by the government in ending regional conflicts that the Centre, in consultation with the state government – both under the leadership of the BJP – took the historic decision revoke AFSPA completely from 23 districts and partially from one district. of Assam from 1 April. This decision not only removes the sword of Damocles hanging over most districts of Assam, but also paves the way for full normalcy and development in this part of the northeast.
For Guwahati, years of pent-up aspirations can now come into full play. From art and culture to local businesses, the doors have been opened for a new era of growth that can truly galvanize the region. And the first expression of this newfound freedom can be seen in the ongoing Rongali festival in Guwahati which kicked off on April 8. Returning after a two-year hiatus, Rongali – now in its sixth edition – presents an eclectic mix of fashion, music, traditional art, North Eastern cuisine and business opportunities. Apart from being headlined by renowned musicians like Zubeen Garg, the festival also features pieces from Ankiya Bhaona – a traditional Assam art form created by Srimanta Sankardeva in the early 16and century – an open-mic stage showcasing independent artists and slam poets, a hip hop stage, traditional Assam sports and an exhibition of 200 local entrepreneurs, self-help groups, start-ups, agribusinesses and weavers as part of a ‘Vocal for local initiative.
But what is truly unique about Rongali is its forward-looking orientation based on the aspirations of local youth. Only in Rongali can tradition and modernity coincide, illustrating the region’s strong roots while simultaneously displaying an openness to change and outside influences. It is here that the rhythms of Eminem and the tunes of Bihu husori produce a unique juggalbandi. Where young Guwahatians show their true appreciation for Assam’s muga silk while sporting the latest in western fashion.
It is this confluence reflecting the diverse communities of the region that is crucial to the success of the North East. If the North East is to become a true growth pole and springboard for Indian Act East policy, it must be imbued with a spirit of acceptance and harmony. This is what Rongali stands for. Rongali is a microcosm of what the North East can be in a post-AFSPA era. The region has much to offer the rest of India and the world with its artistic depth and natural resources. Rongali and the North East welcome all.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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