www.economictimes.indiatimes.com | April 20, 2021
The theme for World Heritage day this year - 'Complex Pasts: Diverse Futures', not only highlights the urgency to preserve, conserve and uplift the legacies of monuments and cultures, but also the desperate need to critically analyse, comprehend and recognise the diversity around us.
In that way, we can look at the Taj as a symbol of heritage which is documented and studied for its history and architecture. It can also be seen as a symbol of unity in diversity as its reach goes beyond a particular religion. Considering these aspects, the government of India also takes pride in managing the heritage site and maintaining it as an international tourist attraction. Maybe we can learn from the success of Taj Mahal and apply the logic and efforts to other heritage sites in India.
Culture and Heritage shapes human society
The identity of a nation, region, community or a group lies in its past- its historical and cultural heritage which is unique to that group or society and reflects the rich and diverse creations of humankind. What comes to one’s mind when you hear the term cultural heritage- arts, crafts, and monuments? Cultural Heritage is the legacy of physical artefacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from the past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. Cultural Heritage includes tangible culture such as buildings, monuments, landscapes, books, works of art and artefacts. It also includes intangible cultural traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts as well as folklore, language and natural heritage such as landscapes and biodiversity. Whatever the shape, size and form of a heritage it requires efforts to protect and safeguard it. But why do we need to preserve, conserve and protect?
Why preserve, conserve and protect?
Culture and heritage shapes human society. We all grew up on stories- mythologies, fables, historical events glorifying our past which helped us construct our identities. Human race has always relied on its past to build the present and construct its future. Generations have lived before us and have shaped the world we reside in. It is important to protect our heritage as it adds character and distinctiveness to the place, region or community and hence provides a sense of identity.
Heritage, tangible as well as intangible, has a positive influence on many aspects of the way a community develops. Preservation, conservation and protection is highly valuable because:
- The historic environment is a proven source of benefit to local economies, particularly through tourism.
- An attractive heritage benefits in attracting external investment as well as maintaining existing businesses and not just tourism.
- Adaptive reuse of heritage buildings is an important factor in creating sustainable communities.
- A greater social inclusiveness can be achieved through heritage protection.
- Heritage places are an excellent educational resource for people of all ages.
- World Heritage properties also harbor options for society to mitigate and adapt to climate change through ecosystem benefits, such as water and climate regulation as well as carbon that is stored in world forest sites.
World Heritage Day
April 18, every year, marks World Heritage Day. The origins of this special day can be traced back to 1982, when the ICOMOS-the International Council for Monuments and Sites established this day as the International Day for Monuments and Sites. Later, UNESCO adopted this day as the World Heritage Day during its 22nd General conference. A theme is picked every year for the commemoration of the day. The theme for 2021 being, “Complex Pasts: Diverse Futures”. The theme not only highlights the urgency to preserve, conserve and uplift the legacies of monuments and cultures, but also the desperate need to critically analyse, comprehend and recognize the diversity around us. The global networks of World Heritage help raise awareness on impacts of climate change on human societies and cultural diversity, biodiversity and ecosystem services as well as world’s natural and cultural heritage.
Challenges for management of Heritage sites
A few cities from India such as Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Gwalior and Orchha are listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Cities. Every city is promoted by the local governments by identifying its unique heritage in terms of architecture observed in palaces, forts, temples, individual houses or neighbourhoods. Due to the recognition by UNESCO, these cities get a chance of publicity and attracting tourists and may also gain some financial assistance from UNESCO for conservation of the sites. However, India has immense wealth of heritage sites which also require attention and preservation. Only select sites, depending upon its significance, get more attention for conservation.
It is challenging to manage and protect the vast rich cultural heritage of India especially due to lack of proper funds. Moreover, apathy on the part of common public, government and other stakeholders results in complete neglect of sites of historical and cultural significance. Lack of latest technology and methods for conservation can also be a challenge in the current ever-increasing pollution and climate change. What can we as citizens do? Apart from trained manpower and funds can we as citizens come together and adopt a site? Use available resources to preserve, and protect the local heritage sites which in turn can draw attention from larger funding bodies for safeguarding our cultural heritage.
It is our civic responsibility to acknowledge and honor the heritage and traditions of not only our own communities but also those of others. We must also make the necessary efforts to overcome the outdated and archaic narratives and ideologies which will help lead us to a more tolerant and respectable future. Our involvement in the World Heritage Day is a step in the right direction to achieve our goals of inclusivity and understanding the multiplicities of the various communities and cultures across the world. We must pledge to contribute to this great cause of honoring the reverential heritage of monumental sites as well as the multifaceted heritage of diverse cultures and communities across the world.
-Prof. Poonam Gandhi, Associate Professor of Sociology
-Prof. Prasad Pathak, Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences