Government officials take most benefits of UNESCO’s projects meant for protecting and promoting Intangible Cultural Heritages of different communities living in Bangladesh, community leaders and ICH researchers have said.
They allege that UNESCO Dhaka office hardly invites any traditional artiste or representative of any practicing community to programmes it takes with the donation from development partners for protecting and promoting diverse Intangible Cultural Heritages of Bangladesh like baul song, jamdani weaving, jari gaan, pala gaan and others.
Rather, ICH researchers say, government officials take part in such big-budget capacity-building programmes at home and abroad, which ultimately does not help the ICH protection, promotion and transmission activities in the country.
‘Thugs [government officials and people close to the cultural affairs ministry] take the money and not a single traditional baul, bhawaiya, chatka or jari singer gets benefit though they are struggling to survive and giving up practicing art,’ said eminent singer, researcher and former director general of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy Mustafa Zaman Abbasi.
‘UNESCO does not like the real people. They know only designation,’ said Abbasi, who as a music researcher worked with UNESCO and several other reputed organisations in the USA, Japan and Bangladesh.
Criticising the previous and ongoing projects initiated by UNESCO Dhaka in association with different government agencies in the past eight years since the country’s ratification of UNESCO’s Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009, Dhaka University’s fine arts faculty dean Professor Nisar Hossain said, ‘These workshops did not bring any result and will yield no result either.’
‘Many government officials participated in such capacity-building workshops but we do not see any competent official who can take initiatives of making a national inventory of ICH or taking advantages offered by UNESCO and other development partners for safeguarding ICH elements for welfare of practicing communities,’ said Nisar, also a member of National Craft Policy Execution Committee.
A three-year US$ 200,000 project for capacity building for ICH safeguarding is underway while another three-year US$ 67,800 Good Safeguarding Practices project for safeguarding Baul songs was carried out between 2008 and 2010. Bangladesh Shilapakala Academy is the implementing agency of both of the projects.
UNESCO website reports on the ongoing and previous capacity-building and promotional projects initiated by UNESCO Dhaka Office with government agencies like department of archaeology in 2013 and again this year with Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy show no name of any traditional artiste, craftsman or any representative from any community which is directly or indirectly involved with ICH.
Organising awareness-generating or capacity-building programmes without involvement of any representative of any community that practice and nurture ICH is a violation of the clauses of the UNESCO’s Convention for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage and its operational directives, experts say.
Article 15 of the convention stipulates that all the member states shall ensure the widest possible participation of communities, groups and, where appropriate, individuals that create, maintain and transmit such heritage, and also involve them actively in its management.
But, many community leaders said that they never heard name of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Kushtia-based baul Osman Fakir said, ‘I don’t know what UNESCO means or what intangible cultural heritage is.’
Dhaka-based baul Pagla Bablu said he heard that the music genre got UNESCO recognition. ‘But, to my knowledge, no baul has so far been invited to any programme organised by UNESCO. We are struggling and facing harassments every day. So such recognition does not carry any meaning,’ Bablu resented.
Narayanganj-based nakshi kantha stitching artisan Hosne Ara, who won the best prize of embroidered quilt making competition organised by Bangladesh Loko O KaruShilpa Foundation in 2010, said, ‘I do not know what a heritage means. I just know that I need to make nakshi kantha to survive.’
Traditional artistes have mostly been exploited by NGOs, which have good relation with UNESCO and its centres and enterprises, says Bangla Academy’s senior research fellow Firoz Mahmud.
UNESCO Dhaka Office, he continues, is poor and questionable. ‘This Office is incapable of reviewing the situation critically as it does not have any idea of cultural traditions of Bangladesh and never tried to learn it,’ said Mahmud, who prepared nomination paper when Mangal Shobhajatra was inscribed on UNESCO’S Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016.
Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy director general Liaquat Ali Lucky also blamed UNESCO Dhaka for not inviting any traditional artiste or community leader to the recently held workshop on community-based inventorying that was organised by UNESCO in association with the academy as part of US$ 200,000 project funded by Azerbaijan government.
‘UNESCO Dhaka office made the plan and we just helped them execute it. They did not take our suggestion either. But, there must be involvement of some traditional artistes or representative of the communities at such workshop,’ Lucky suggests.
UNESCO Dhaka office did not reply New Age questions despite several attempts in the past two months.
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