Stretched out in the middle of the holy Brahmaputra river, which flows through the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, lies the world’s largest inhabited river island – Majuli.
The island is the home to many ancient monasteries whose traditions relate to a particular branch of Hinduism, called “sattriya”, which, over time, has gradually united the different tribes of Majuli in a democratic way. Agriculture, fishing, craft and of course religion are the common elements of a daily life that each community chooses to live in its own way.
The effect of global climate change has reinforced the impact of monsoon rains have on the island. Floods all over this part of Asia have dramatically increased. Over the past 50 years Majuli has already lost about a third of its surface: 1256 km² wide not that long ago, Majuli’s size has been decimated and of the main island, only 560 km² remains.
Bhutnat Mandir, a temple dedicated to god Shiva.
Majuli, India, 2008
With every year that goes by, the possibility of any sustainable development on the island diminished, and the 200,000 island inhabitants sink deeper into misery. As villages are washed away, they get rebuilt haphazardly along roads and dikes. Due to constant threat of erosion, schools, hospitals and roads are all in bad state. Traditional workers hardly make a living, while there seems little chance for any kind of industry to take off. Little financial support seems to make its way to the island, endemic corruption being a major hindrance.
However, in spite of all this, nobody seems to want to leave the island.
I came to Majuli for the first time in March 2007, returning many times over the next three years. My photographs bear witness to this sad, and still on-going story. The Indian government does not seem to be able to find an answer. The little financial help it gives appears to end up in the pockets of a number of leading families.
Bit by bit, Majuli is sinking. If nothing is done, the island may vanish after 20 years.