KATHMANDU: Setting up a Ministry of Culture in Nepal is still a dream. A National Culture Policy has been adopted by the Government of Nepal, where the necessity of a separate ministry to deal with cultural issues is clearly stated. However, the culture portfolio is not interesting for politicians and bureaucrats and is therefore merged with other ministries as an unwanted appendage. Culture has been linked to state restructuring and to a bizarre combination of federal affairs, constituent assembly and parliamentary affairs. Culture has also been combined with youth and sports and before that to education. Recently, culture was merged with tourism and civil aviation, a previously used formula. Each of these combinations addressed a different aspect of culture and each culture has been shunted off to the vague recesses of cobweb filled back rooms.
Safeguarding of culture is not taken seriously, probably due to lack of understanding of the topic and the impression that the sector is not a profitable one. Culture seems to have lost its social integrity and its status as a basic necessity. Considered an indulgence, culture has been rejected by the regular system of governance and has become dependent on donation and philanthropic actions. Those who provide funds dictate
conditions for the continued presence of culture, which is often determined by prospects of indirect profits and possible political gain.
However, before discarding culture as an indulgence of vernissages and operas, there needs to be a clarification on what we are talking about. Culture could be defined as: ‘all the products of human thought and creation’. As Albert Camus states, “Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.” In contrast, culture is looked upon rather as one might look upon orphans and street children. When confronted, a nagging conscience might momentarily grab one’s attention. Somewhere deep within, a faint voice is heard suggesting that it would be the correct thing to show a certain degree of concern.
I recently visited the Children Protection Home at Siphal. This is a place established by Nepal Children’s Organisation for the children of prisoners. Before this home was set up, the children used to live with their imprisoned parent(s). This very noble establishment provides the innocent children a chance — the possibility to go to school, create their own future and not get dragged down by their parents’ misdeed. There are donors and sponsors that support the establishment in matters that provide visibility to their contributions.
However, these children have been living with no electricity because no one considers this worthy of support. No one seems accountable, even though a functioning society needs to acknowledge certain responsibilities.
Societies have the responsibility to ensure a sustainable future for its children. This future would entail a healthy and prosperous environment — without wars and conflicts. This greatly depends on how cultural issues are addressed. The seeds to the greatest conflicts in the world have been religion and ethnicity.
Differences in language and customs have been the cause for sowing discord within otherwise peaceful communities. Conversely, it is culture that can provide the basis for a shared identity and a sense of national integrity. This requires the tolerance and acceptance of each other’s heritage. Culture cannot be held hostage for profitability and political gain.
(The author is an architect and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org)