Cultural activists have criticised National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage published by cultural affairs ministry on its website, terming it incomplete, unacceptable and misleading.
Social scientists and cultural activists fear that inscription of elements like Sapureder Tantra/Mantra O Jharphuk (chanting of magical words by snake charmers), Jotish Bidya (palmistry), Kalajadu Bidya (sorcery) on the national inventory may encourage frauds to cheat people.
They urged the government to review the list uploaded on the website in 2016 and replace it with a complete one that represents the age-old traditions of the country.
Sorcery has no positive impression in the country’s literature and traditional performing art forms, they argue.
News reports show that many people have been cheated by the so-called sorcery practitioners, snake charmers and palmists. Many innocent people even died being treated by people practicing black magic.
‘What can be misused can never be a cultural heritage. I do not understand how come the government declares Sapureder Tantra/Mantra O Jharphuk and Kalajadu Bidya as intangible cultural heritage elements,’ Shammilita Sanskritik Jote president Ghulam Quddus told New Age.
‘It is ridiculous to see that there is no representation of very popular cultural heritages like ox-fight, cock-fight, maijbhandari song and many other regional songs on the list,’ Quddus vented his disapproval.
It is true that chanting by the snake charmers or black magic practice is not legally prohibited as sorcery or chanting cannot be defined by the law,’ jurist Shahdhin Malik pointed out.
‘Still, these elements which can be misused should not to be declared cultural heritage,’ he stressed.
The government can rehabilitate snake charmer community in an alternative way, said Dhaka University’s social welfare and research institute professor Md Abu Taher. ‘But the logic of declaring chanting by snake charmers as cultural heritage is not clear to me,’ he noted.
The government initiated making the inventory in 2007 as part of its ratification of UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009.
Between 2007 and 2016, the government inscribed 57 elements on the list in five categories, including traditional art-related ICH (14 elements); indigenous performing art-related ICH (23 elements); social practice, tradition and festival-related ICH (16 elements); traditional sports-related ICH (2 elements) and one cultural practice-related ICH named bakharkahnai.
Sapureder Tanta/Mantra O Jharphuk, Jotish Bidya and Kalajadu Bidya were inscribed on the national inventory on February 8, 2016 to show the diversity of cultural heritages in Bangladesh as found in national inventories of countries like Japan and South Korea where shamanism is regarded as an art form.
The cultural affairs ministry sources said they had not even taken consent of the practitioners while inscribing most of these 57 elements on the national list.
UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage requires permission from the practitioners before a cultural element is inscribed as an ICH element.
‘The government officials who make such list have no idea of the tradition and culture of the country. They just know how to make personal benefits taking projects with UNESCO and other donors’ funds,’ said folklore researcher and singer Mustafa Zaman Abbasi.
Cultural activists have demanded immediate review of the inventory and make a comprehensive one that represents the age-old tradition of all the ethnic groups living in the country.
The list should be made involving researchers and cultural activists who have acceptance at the national level and not by the bureaucrats, Ghulam Quddus and Mustafa Zaman Abbasi suggested.
Cultural affairs minister Asaduzzaman Noor could not say why and how Sapureder Tanta/Mantra O Jharphuk, Jotish Bidya and Kalajadu Bidya were on the inventory.
‘It is not a complete list and there was lack of coordination while it was prepared to comply with UNESCO obligation of having a national inventory,’ Noor told New Age.
‘We are making a new list following the UNESCO guidelines and taking suggestions from experts,’ Noor said.
Sapureder Tanta/Mantra O Jharphuk, Jotish Bidya and Kalajadu Bidya would not be on the new list, Noor assured.
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