Whiter Culture Studies In New Nepal? : Prem Khatry

The new, republican constitution of Nepal is expected to be promulgated soon and lay the foundation for a new, vibrant, dynamic and prosperous but a divided Nepal. There will be at least eight (proposed at this time) federations born of good old mother Nepal with power, privilege and prospects. They will name themselves, enjoy the mother's love but try to stand and walk on their own to the amusement of the mother and 601 fathers.

Some unhappy fathers tried to tear the draft of the constitution; this is indicative of what comes after promulgation: fiery and windy protests along with forced watery cool down by the security. For our purpose, the students of culture strongly feel that there will be some well stipulated provision for the safeguard of Nepali culture and Nepali ethos as the country moves forward toward federalism. As a miniature form of the once-unified Nepal, the federation will have nearly ll the characteristics of Nepali culture within its geographic, administrative and cultural form and frame.

State of the art

The state of the art of culture studies in Nepal is incomplete, ill-managed and neglected, to say the least. Obviously, the State does not seem to consider the need to promote the study of history and culture. Even Tribhuvan University, where the Department of Nepali History, Culture and Archaeology was established soon after its foundation, has the department shrinking by the years. One remembers how during the Panchayat Raj the government realised the need to have general knowledge of Nepali culture even in the technical faculties and institutions. A paper called Nepal Parichaya (Introduction to Nepal) was launched, and even future engineers and doctors were given a brief dose on Nepal's history, culture and arts.

In democratic Nepal, such basic information about the country and its past was fully neglected. It is said, when foreign universities check the level of such knowledge in newly enrolled Nepali students, they find a gap. Therefore, some private institutions in Nepal have started a crash (or a formal?) course so that young Nepalis studying abroad do not feel ashamed of not knowing their culture, history and basic information in these areas. At home, though, the trend is still 'growing with ignorance.' This is simply unacceptable.

Following the mega earthquake, 2015, words like 'archaeological and cultural heritage', 'conservation' and 'management' are being heard everywhere. The government is making every effort to convince the world that the lost heritage can be restored, repaired and presented to the viewers, researchers and the citizenry of the country in a few years’ time. For this, budget, expertise and full commitment must be in hand. Hopefully, we will see the dharahara in place, royal palaces in their old shapes, and temples, shrines and surroundings booming with activities in just a few years.

The gap again is in the field of interest in the culture and history of Nepal - both formal and informal sectors. The universities have not considered the need to promote culture studies with a comprehensive curricula and field works. TU Kirtipur is somehow managing the study of history (in a state of endangered species) and culture with special focus in tourism. At the graduate or BA level, campuses have the number of students shrinking or disappearing fast. At still the lower level - the +2, there are less than 500 students nationwide. This is nearly half the number of the 2070/71 session. This is shocking.

The reason behind such a sad condition is that people do not see the need and use of the study of history and culture of Nepal in any field of their career. Who is going to tell them that studying them at the college level does not hurt their career, instead it promotes their store of knowledge. And, there is scope also in the long run when you have a full-fledged and hard earned degree in culture with special focus on archaeology, numismatics, epigraphy, art and architecture. Their importance will never erode as there is much interest abroad in these fields of Nepali culture. We only have to update our curricula, prepare source materials such as texts, journals and labs, if possible.

A sad story told

The government established a typical award named 'National Genius Award' (Rashtriya Pratibha Puraskar) 20 years ago and placed it under the Ministry of Culture. National and regional level awards are given to well identified experts and 'genius' working and contributing in the fields of culture, arts such as music, painting, sculpture and language-literature. One just has to be a well recognised person or institution who has created a name to be taken with appreciation and pride.  That is, one must have produced tangible items - be it books, art objects or intangible items such as songs, music and the like for the nation.

The hunt for the genius starts formally a few months before the honor is bestowed on the identified and recommended personalities. The host institution, the Ministry of Culture, starts the process through a public notice in the newspapers. Meanwhile, the ministry keeps the three academies ready to process the applications and the tangible creations submitted for the awards. A selection and recommendation committee is set up to do the hard work of sifting the grain from the chaff amidst all odds, such as the constantly ringing mobile calls for off-the-track and informal recommendation, warm friendship notes and requests, political information on who is who and why, among others. At the end of the day, the hectic but the right thing gets done - a list of one national each with five regional awardees is prepared in all sectors. Hopefully, Ashad 29 will show them live while they receive the awards this year (2072).

Finally, a sad story is often heard that a very bitter picture comes in the sectors of history and culture studies while going through the nomination process. It is very difficult to find a recognised, committed person with creditable published works in the regions such as the east, the west, the mid-west and the far west. The study of history and culture is almost nil in some of these areas although there are universities now functioning in there. Is it okay to forget one's history and culture now that the nation is heading towards federalism? Indeed it is time to establish more departments in local colleges and schools to bring out the unexplored aspects of our history and culture in order to strengthen our nationality, market our products through tourism and reinstate the glory that once was.

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