Sunday, December 22, 2013

Nepal: Culture And The Cultural Policy

Nepal: Culture And The Cultural Policy

Prem Khatry

The main and distinct feature of Nepali culture is that it is colourful, diversified, plural and highly traditional with enough room for modernisation and functionalisation. That is so because some traditions and customs persist over time owing to their relevance while others need to go. New ideas and practices tested by time gradually weed out the unnecessary rules, practices and customs. That is, however, traditional it might be, there is always room for timely changes and modification in a culture. 

Years ago, UNESCO started a campaign of compiling a monograph on the cultural policy of member nations. No exact data are available as to how many nations actually compiled such a monograph, but this scribe had an opportunity to browse through some monographs in the libraries of the University of California decades ago. The monographs were of almost uniform size and shape and covered nearly similar topics and issues relevant to their respective countries. 
The idea of having such a monograph was to make the information globally accessible to all the member nations. The main objective was, however, to help nations have their cultural policy in hand so that preservation, study, research and other projects could be designed. 
A little later, perhaps in the early 1990s, there was a monograph on the cultural policy of Nepal written by none other than Dr. Saphalya Amatya, former Director General of the Department of Archaeology, and a well known scholar. It is difficult to imagine whatever happened to the monograph and its expected circulation, but it is heard that the government has assigned some scholars and agencies to work on the project all over again. In any case, this is a welcome step if proper and qualified personalities are involved to compile the cultural policy of Nepal in a more comprehensive and acceptable way.

National need
The compilation of the nation’s cultural policy is especially important not only because we are a nation of many cultures, traditions, faiths and belief systems but also because this is the time to look into ourselves and make as well as redesign the potential impact of culture on the lives of the people concerned in the present context. Many of our age-old traditions and beliefs have had a negative impact on our social development. Due to the lack of proper education and resources, awareness and advocacy programmes have not reached places where such impacts are found. 
On the other hand, many of our resources such as traditional wisdom have not been highlighted, promoted and fully utilised or listed for preservation. The cultural policy to be drafted and finalised for publication needs serious attention in this regard.
It is worthwhile to note here that the primary work of listing the priorities and main issues to be addressed in the making of a cultural policy of Nepal was commissioned at the Central Department of Nepali History, Culture and Archaeology a few years ago. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism had initiated and entrusted this to the said Department of TU, and a team of professors led by the then Head had duly and precisely compiled the outline of the work within the given time frame. The file must be sitting in some corner of the Ministry or the Department of Archaeology (DOA) of the Government of Nepal. 
But, as is the normal practice in Nepal, the whereabouts of this primary work was almost forgotten even by the contributors who had meticulously worked on the project and had signed out. Interestingly enough, now a new team has been created and entrusted once again for finalising the work. In any case, it is highly gratifying to see that Nepal will be finally showing to the world its cultural policy in the new and changing context. If, and only if, the newly chosen team bothers to dig out the files and dust them off carefully, it will find many useful tips as outlines, if not the final form, and proceed on with its new assignment. 
Nepal (then Royal) Academy a few years ago launched a project entitled ‘intangible cultural heritage listing’. In about three years’ time, the listing was complete for the Eastern and Far Western Development Regions. Currently there is a plan to continue the work in the Western region. The study indicated that there is so much to list, study, publish and preserve. The listing of tangible heritage can be a separate project in its own right. The indigenous communities, the minority groups and regions have specific cultural traditions that need support and study. 
There is an urgent need to complete the listing of the heritage in all the five regions of the country. The report submitted to the Academy includes preservation and study plans along with the approximate budget. The objective of this mention here is that the cultural policy of the country must focus on the need to list, study/research, publish and preserve all the cultures of the country. Nepal Academy could be the focal point to plan and carry out a more comprehensive study of Nepali culture. However, the recent constitution of this institution does not indicate this concern. 
Finally, as the country braces up to move gradually towards federalism, each federation constituting the Union will be a replica of the national culture - a harmonious existence of scores of divergent yet accommodating people, scores of languages, traditions and beliefs, and wisdoms, to name a few features. Therefore the new cultural policy to be designed, drafted and finalised must address the need to not only incorporate the value of pluralism but also to frame a policy to uplift the cultures of the minority, enable them to foster their cultures, and make them able to modify, use and sustain them. 

Respect for other cultures
Our cultural policy must reflect our concern to uphold the basic strands that have always preserved national unity, fraternity and respect for other cultures against disintegration, domination and fragmentation. Let us hope New Nepal will be a much cherished home for all cultures and their carriers, the colourful and ever friendly people regardless of their roots, branches and skins.

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