Preserving Culture Of Minorities


Prem Khatry

Over the years and decades, this scribe wore a wide variety of colourful hats as a professor, a consultant, a principal, a chairman, a board member or a facilitator. In each of the artificial character, there was a genuine persona – the man with a relatively small size brain power ready to work in the field of culture. And a serious effort was made to maintain a balance between the supply and the demand. Perhaps life moves forward based on the balance one can make. Man always cherishes hopes. Hope can be cherished and nourished with serious efforts to fulfill them. The indigenous ethnic communities, like others in the country hope that their culture is preserved through the support of the government. This is not only natural but also mandatory on the part of the government to see that in a multicultural country like Nepal people has adequate ability to own their culture and make it viable for further progress. That does not happen always because preserving culture of the minorities does not seem to be the priority agenda of the government

Limited skill
What can a person with some background training in culture and anthropology do? In fact, anthropology has to do much with people and their way of life looked from all possible angles and perspectives. The scribe had a small stint of a career in the field of anthropology back in the 1980s and 1990s. A residue of his limited skill survived in the following decades as well. But they didn’t take him much farther except some assignments with ADB. That also didn’t work well in the face of their standard and norm. Nearly 12 year’s work in ADB projects didn’t sharpen the typical Nepali brain.
Soon a time came when it was prudent to say good-bye to ADB sponsored works than to follow the Mongolian or Vietnamese examples suggested to develop a project to be implemented in the remote far or mid-west Nepal. The scribe could smell that what the international aid agencies expect the natives to do is work faster than the normal speed toward the major objective: Hurry up to apply for the loan or grant and receive it on their condition.
The writer was too small a person to do anything different in the mega project of strengthening Engineering Education in Nepal with special focus on Karnali region. But the hope to do something for a very much neglected region like Karnali was dismissed when the big brains based in Manila or Seoul would not allow the consultants to visit the site, meet with the target people and discuss the issues to assess their needs. After 12 years, the road to ADB came to a dead end. That was it! The writer’s knowledge of anthropology gained carefully and expensively was tested and failed, at least temporarily. A sincere desire cherished to do something in the field of indigenous culture especially in remote regions had met with an unsuccessful dream. But that was not the end of a career in culture studies.
The lesson learnt here was practical – you can always serve your country, society and culture in your own way using your own small brain if a viable project is visible. You don’t have to depend on a foreign aid project and see erosion of your capacity and brainpower. If you stay away from a loan project that adds further to an already heavy burden on your countrymen’s back, better. In the post-TU career of the scribe, the next station after the ADB loan project was far better. (Royal) Nepal Academy had to major plans on the table: The documentation of intangible cultural heritage of all the development regions of the country and compilation of social rites and sacraments of Nepal. In both the projects the ultimate goal was to reach all the ethnic groups and sub-groups of the country. The scribe had ‘free’ hand to make practical plans to go ahead with the approval of the Social Sciences Committee created under the Chairmanship of the Chancellor.
The Social Sacraments Project has thus far produced four volumes in print. They started in the east and moved towards west. The fifth volume will reach the mid and the far west and stop at Darchula documenting the social sacraments of the Byasi people. Here, the untimely and sudden demise of Brig Gen Gopal Bohora, a writer, thinker and a nationalist, has been seriously felt in the compilation of this volume. Gen Bohora is much known through his work on the Byasi people and also on the unilaterally debated ‘Kalapani’ region of the Far West.
Nepal academy’s first project on the documentation of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) of the eastern region of Nepal was a work of its kind. Its importance lies on the fact that UNESCO had passed a historic resolution in 2003 on ICH. The UNESCO then urged the participants to sign it and own it. Nepal signed the Convention in 2010 and became a state party with responsibility inherent in it. The documentation of the ICH of East Nepal completed in one fiscal year (2060-61) covering all the five main ‘domains’ prescribed by UNESCO. The compilation is first of its kind involving efforts of several members of Nepal Academy who visited several regions of east Nepal and conducted field work to collect data.

Documentation
The second plan in the series involved the Far West development region. But unfortunately for the project and fortunately for the nation, the anti-monarchy movement took its toll on (Royal) Nepal academy where the word ‘Royal’ died for ever. The ICH documentation work took more than two fiscal years to complete but it finally took a shape. Both the volumes sit comfortably in the shelves of the Ministry of Culture and Nepal Academy. The following years saw the fund used differently. Three more regions were not accessed at all.
Finally, the main task ahead is to approach the 59 ethnic groups, the dalits and backward groups, and the rest of the group minorities and others in terms of documenting their cultures, creating awareness and enabling them to own their cultural heritage. The scribe has a handful of assignments and he is ready to fulfill them. (To be continued…)

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