Nepali Culture: Whose Priority Is It Anyway?

Prem Khatry


The answer is plain and simple: Ideally it is everybody’s concern as well as priority. But if one observes carefully and minutely, it is facing risk in terms of study, research and preservation. Only culture can maintain the identity of the people of Nepal at home and abroad. Within the single term ‘Culture,’ there exist cultures and they are many. It is hard to take an extensive, reliable and scientifically done stocktaking of Nepali culture but it must be done before it is too late.

The problem, which is also the beauty, is that we live in a very complex, pluralistic society with a host of social, cultural and natural diversities that help maintain the beauty as well as serenity. The variations strengthen the unity and solidarity in and outside the immediate group an individual belongs to. The multiple identity one carries along make her/him responsible, thoughtful as well as farsighted in the effort to maintain peace and ensure progress in the community at large.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and his government are busy realising the slogan of Prosperity of the Nation and Happiness of the People. Thus far Nepalis have learnt to be happy in the midst of myriads of hardships. At this hour, the people of Jumla are facing rice crisis for the upcoming festivals. Millions of youths can’t make to family during the festival and must stay in the shades of the desert in the gulf countries. But they are still happy that at least they are able to send some rupees so the rest of the family can celebrate festivals and be happy. Happiness has many dimensions.
Can CULTURE, spelt in capital be a part of this prosperity dream? The PM thinks Nepalis now not only need prosperity and happiness, they actually deserve it. There is no reason why one can’t go with him. A cursory glance at the electronic and print media shows lately there has been sufficient debate and discourse at different levels of expertise and academia. Prosperity ads are everywhere. One can only wait to see what short, medium and long term plans are devised and their success guaranteed. Time frame is urgently required so one can trust that the prosperity slogan is virtually reaching the ground.
First of all, the government must be judicious, prompt and smart enough to engage the Ministry of Culture, related departments and institutions to make culture as associate of progress. The Ministry must see that promotion and preservation of culture is the priority of the government
At the moment the Ministry (Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, MoCTCA) is reaching out to the minority, disadvantaged and remote dwellers with a culture awareness or orientation programme. It focuses on the need to uphold the important legacy of the older generation and encourage the youth to accept and hold on to the practical ones. This is done in order to strengthen the local cultures and make them part of the mainstream development plans.
Village tourism has been another facet of development where culture and tourism meet face to face. This interface has been instrumental to improve the village economy, village education and health. Visitors from home and abroad are now making travels to remote areas and taking part in local lifestyles and ritual/festival cycles. This is a very good indicator of rural development.
There are some potential areas where the government can make intervention. For example, infrastructure such as green roads, sanitation, clean running water and communication facilities can be improved. These can be done engaging non-government agencies working in the field of travel and tourism. Similarly, tourism students can be dispatched in the homestays and local hotels to function as interns. Positive change can be expected from such plans.
Nepal villages are rich in intangible heritages. But slowly many traditions are either dying or already dead. It is important to make integrated plans to work for their survival and continuity. On the one hand, research projects can be planned for their continuity and preservation. On the other, the practical aspect of the heritage can be integrated into tourism packages. Private sector can take initiative in this field.
With the coming of provincial and local government, there is strong possibility of cultural revival at the local level. Communities as the main source and custodian of culture can be important partner for progress. Thus far, they do not figure anywhere as we are used to hearing mega development plans and the ultimate failure due to this reason or that. The government spends large sums in locating the development ‘culprit’. Then commissions are created to do the needful and the end result is only disappointing to say the least. Considering the nature of this dramatic show and pre-conjectured outcome, the government would be best advised to focus on micro issues for the success of the much-sung Prosperity song.
Nepal’s culture has its thrust on nature worship. But bulldozers are now doing the job. New airports and new capitals are also busy destroying nature. Nobody seems ready to go for less harms and substantial result. The term ‘fast track’ is much in use now. Prosperity is here, you just have to look at it seriously and community and culture are the prime players in this prosperity game. Energising local cultures, encouraging indigenous technology as well as production and bridging the gap between the urban and the rural is the door to prosperity.

Finally, culture must find its due place in the development discourses and plan of actions. Development cannot be thrust from the traditional powerful top to the helpless bottom. Nepal has been seeing this in the recent history. Planning from the bottom with the participation of communities and cultures is the only logical and scientific way of doing things and enjoying the outcome. Mega projects have their place and cannot be ignored. Only judicious application of such projects can make the PM and the people smile at full length of the lips.

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