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Hope for Our Heritage

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We, the Government

By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer

Heritage is to a town what izzat is to a family: it’s pride in a cultural bloodline.
Izzat is always attacked by those who don’t have it. It’s a sort of social osmosis: the weaker leaching strength out of the stronger. So, instead of appreciating the character that a beautiful old building imparts to a town, they take it over by hook or by crook (more the latter than the former) and then gloat over the fact that they have cocked a snook at those who wanted to protect their heritage. We have written about what might have happened to the beautiful old Christ Church, if a quarrier had had his way. Then there’s the matter of the impressive old building housing the State Bank of India but owned by the LIC.
As we have said in an earlier column, we had spoken privately to two former Governors of our state when they were in office. Both supported a Heritage Act. Both were frustrated by the builder-neta-babu lobby. These worthies detest any law that curtails their money-making activities. A journalist friend recently discovered that a senior babu, whose attitude influences young civil servants of our land, has also thrown in his lot with the so-called “developers”. This is disturbing because many people believe that the real Movers and Shakers of India are the “PM, CM and DM”. The first two are thrown up by the world’s greatest civic churning: our Indian Elections. Their view-points are unpredictable. The third group, however, are products of a Mussoorie-based institution, the LBSNAA: the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration. We have received a recent insight into the attitude of the Academy to Heritage preservation. It could be a game changer for our land.
Before we go into that, however, we must admit that we have great respect for the original heritage-preservers of Bharat: the formidable Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), and their junior siblings, the State Archaeological Departments. We have not, always, agreed with their stands but, without them, our past would have been a mess of myths, legends and shifting political jumlas. Having said that, there is also no denying the fact that their activities are subject to the whims of their political bosses. This could have been disastrous for our heritage particularly when a dogmatic government was thrown up as a reaction to a seemingly weak and allegedly directionless one. We were reminded of Benito Mussolini’s symbol of a bundle of carefully trimmed faggots tightly bound around their disciplining axe. But in our great and diverse land a solution to an over-reaction also emerges. INTACH had been born. This Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage bravely stepped in where the sarkari savants feared to tread. To start with, it was not blinkered by an Indo-Gangetic Aryan-language bias. Yes, “Aryan” refers to a language group, not a white, blue-eyed, blond, racial one as the brown-eyed, black-haired, Adolf Hitler wanted the world to believe. Unencumbered by a racial bias, INTACH ventured bravely into the restoration, preservation and promotion of every aspect of Indian creativity, all down the ages, and all across our vast sub-continental nation.
And now, here’s the really promising news.
For the last two years, INTACH has run a one-day Heritage Quiz for probationers at the LBSNAA. Responding to the enthusiasm the quizzes generated, the Academy has asked INTACH to design a full-fledged heritage management course. The course will offer a practical approach based on successful heritage cases, a hands-on experience, an exposure visit and a guided tour of INTACH. The course should be ready for the next batch of 2019 probationers.
The potential of this development is very far reaching. The majority of IAS officers, we understand, are posted outside their home states. In spite of this, however, we have noticed, during our extensive travels across our land, that such civil servants tend to cling to other expats from their “native places”, to use a common expression. If their dedication to conserving and promoting the local heritage permeates into their psyche, as it is likely to do, it will go a long way to breaking their home-grown biases and resonating positively with the concerns of We, the Government.