The historic city of Dibrugarh, popularly known as the Tea City of India, has been a place of great significance since colonial times. Not just for its tea or abundant natural resources viz. coal, petroleum and other raw materials because of which the river-town remained a favourite of the British. Besides, the town had served as a strategic location for the British in the great wars, particularly in the Second World War.
Even though written records relating to this region in colonial times are hardly available in public domain as a single archive, historical sites and relics located at different places in this city give us many hints on studying the colonial era and the legacy that the British have left behind in the region. But, present-day Dibrugarh seems to be losing these historical significances.
Among the historical relics and sites of the colonial period available here are two age-old cemeteries viz. the Christian Cemetery and the Chinese Cemetery. They cemeteries remain abandoned and are on the verge of losing their existence. As their names suggest, these cemeteries were once marked as significant spots of burial for the British and the Chinese respectively. Reportedly, these sites were often visited by tourists from England, Ireland, etc. to pay homage to their departed ones until some years ago, after they were left poorly maintained.
As of late, when the writer visited these spots, it was witnessed that these colonial-era cemeteries have now turned into grounds for past time activities for people over there. In the Chinese cemetery, located in Graham Bazaar, a group of children was seen playing cricket inside its compound. There also exists a volleyball court amidst the site.
Similarly, in the Christian Cemetery that is located near Phoolbagan, some kids, perhaps from a nearby area, were seen playing over there. Moreover, the site has been exposed to encroachment. Records reveal that this cemetery has been the resting place for 103 British nationals, which includes highly designated officers of the then Upper Assam region as well British soldiers who died fighting in the Second World War.
But what remains visible now are only a few tombs, since almost half of them have disappeared amidst tall shrubs and weeds. As the construction of the Cemetery dates back to 1862-63 and some epitaphs even record as earlier as the 1700s, this soon-to-be-disappearing British heritage is indeed a loss to Assam’s effort of preserving places having historical significance.
Similarly, constructed in the early 20th century, the Chinese Cemetery serves as a tangible evidence to the presence of the Chinese in the region, who were brought in Assam by the Britishers for engagements in the newly discovered tea cultivation as early as 19th century.
Even though caretakers have been allotted to these sites by the responsible board or commission, their deteriorating condition is due to a lack in the proper use of scientific techniques in preserving buildings. Although funds was allocated by the government authority in recent past, it seems they were either insufficient or poorly utilised.
Renovation through scientific ways is the need of the hour if these colonial-era cemeteries as well as other British heritage sites of the historic Dibrugarh are to be conserved.
However, if renovated properly and targeted to upgrade them into attractive tourist spots, the lost glory of this tea city can be revived as far as historical tourism is concerned, which subsequently, will add much value to Assam’s tourism.
Further, just like historical written accounts, these tangible age-old pieces of relics can provide much scope to history scholars to explore the region further.