Culture Planning Dilemma

Prem Khatry


It is a story of incomplete and imbalanced planning trend in the current state structure. In other sectors, such as the Finance, one heard a lot about the need to have ‘Structural Adjustment’ (SA for short) in terms of budget planning, taxation, production, distribution and what not. Big donors and financial institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, among others, instructed their pupil, the Government of Nepal, to go ahead with the SA concept and prosper. Before actually reaching the stage of prosperity, there were several disciplinary actions to be met. The whole idea, perhaps, was to keep Nepal, the ever borrowing nation to ‘behave’ and be happy.
In the social and cultural sector, there is nothing like SA. One could use the metaphor here mentioned and use Cultural Adjustment, CA, for fun. That may or may not be acceptable. For the purpose of this article, CA can still be a phrase to refer to a host of policy and planning related sectors that need to pay special attention for the just and equal growth of all cultures that make and maintain a culturally composite mosaic of national significance. In the recent past, especially following the democratic and republican change feats, there were also efforts in ‘unmaking’ the diverse cultural profile of the nation. Leaders, scholars and researchers were up for a new cultural identity of their own culture and that of the nation.
Things have cooled down, if not fully settled. The State has never meddled in the debate of whether the unification of Nepal was a normal process, a Shah dream to ‘colonise’ the indigenous ethnic state structure and the multi-cultural profile or something else. It was quite natural to think that way because following the Shah-led unification, a wave for social and cultural integration was on. The New constitution has listed several fundamental rights (FR). Rights to preserve one’s culture comes directly under FR. Similarly, rights to education is also one of the FRs. The government, whichever political party forms it, must not only respect these rights but also must make clear and acceptable plans and programmes for the preservation of minority language, cultures, standards and traditional customs, including customary laws that do not go against the wave of change envisioned by the constitution.
It is now time the government or governments at all three levels to focus on two major actions related to culture: a) scientific documentation of both tangible and intangible cultural heritages of all regions, groups and communities, and b) preparation of short- and long-term planning for their safeguarding following UNESCO model and tools already used worldwide. In Nepal the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation is the sole custodian for the safeguarding and promotion of cultures of the country. Now the responsibility also rests on the provincial and the local governments down to the wards and even blocks. Cultural identity and sense of ‘belongingness’ is gradually surfacing. The government has constituted National Federation of Indigenous/Nationalities as the apex body with a sister organisation – the national academy for the development of indigenous people.
Both these organisations are now at work. However, partisan politics seems to be looming large in their formation, performance rating and expected outcome. In Nepal ‘outcome’ of one’s being in a position doesn’t mean much. There is nothing like a TOR in strict sense of the term. That nullifies the validity of an organisation’s being a responsible wing of the State, not of this political party or the other. If the cost of their existence is put on a scale and assessed against the expected outcome, the end result will not be very satisfactory. The question then arises: How could one value the use of people’s tax money?
It is now time the three-tier governments prepare short- and long-term plans for the promotion of cultures across the length and breadth of the nation. They also consider involving apex ethnic bodies with their plans, hold seminars and collect their blue prints for the safeguarding of culture, language, arts, and other special features facing risks. A full-fledged matrix could be prepared. Lately, MoCTCA is holding almost ‘door to door’ orientation and training/workshop programmes reaching out to the people. With the needed budget, the specialists and trainers would do the expected work with greater speed and frequency using UNESCO models and internationally operational tools. The most surprising factor in this regard is an obvious hitch: the country spends valuable time without a Minister of MoCTCA. There seems also budgetary confusion about priority and preferences.
It has been months since the tragic and unexpected death of Rabindra Adhikari, the Minister of MoCTCA. Following the tragic incident, the PM has taken over the MoCTCA portfolio. Everybody thought it was a short and temporary phenomenon but it has taken time causing technical difficulty in the planning sector. There were confusions in planning for the new fiscal year yet plans have been made and printed in the Red Book. Nobody has been inducted for the job whereas time has been slipping away for many urgent tasks in all the three sectors – Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. Planning for short and long term basis, proper reporting to UNESCO and related international agencies as a State Signatory Party have been affected due to the lack of a cabinet minister on the Chair. Most importantly, there is a lack of planning and policy clarity at the provincial and local levels.
Finally, culture planning is not a hotchpotch exercise. It takes time, expertise and commitment to make things happen. Lately, the periodic plans mention the need of such actions for the overall development of the nation. Culture is directly linked with tourism and as such the local and provincial governments have greater responsibility to engage their resources and manpower in this sector. Similarly, indigenous institutions at federal and local levels must awaken and shoulder their responsibility to complete long- and short-term planning for the safeguarding of their cultures. Only then can one rest assured that cultural diversity and unity of the nation and people move on the correct path in the spirit of just and equal status of all cultures.
(Former Dean of Humanities & Social Sciences, TU and Fulbright scholar from University of California, Khatry writes on cultural issues) 

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