State of Cultural Affairs

On being invited by the Raj Bhawan to participate in a rather serious-looking meeting it was only natural for this writer to reflect on the drift or direction in which this state's cultural affairs are headed. Ever since this writer took over the reins of the state Information Commission it was a deliberate act on his part to studiously maintain a respectable distance form all powers-that-be, regardless of their status, locus or past proximity. In any case this writer has never been lucky to have been blessed with time or inclination for what is known as 'socializing'.


Hill Development years

It was TSR Subramanium, the then Chief Secretary ( later on the Union Cabinet Secretary ), who pulled me out of my eastern UP posting of Gorakhpur Commissioner, suggesting that I better look after what he understood suited me more as the 'Hill Commissioner' bit as he told me over phone soon after he assumed office in 1993 in Lucknow. Prior to this Hill Secretary post was considered a comparatively significant posting as one became ' planning cum finance ' Secretary in so far as matters related to the eight hill districts of UP were concerned; not a simple dispensation if one was to look at it from a typical 'UP IAS eye-glasses'. On record, the UP civilians always rated very highly posts like Kumoan Commissioner, and later Garhwal Commissioner ( 1969 )after 1969, as these kept you away from the 'intense heat of Lucknow', shielded as these posts were by colder mountain climes and thick forests. Of course, then there were the summer months to be looked forward to, when the bosses 'toured' hill districts and the families and relations incidently also earned 'religious brownie points ' through pilgrimages to the various religious destinations. Uttarakhand hills have always been popular postings, of course except to places like Pithoragarh, which became synonymous with legendary 'Kala Pani' of yore.


The situation by and large continues to be the same except the fact that you do not openly mention 'Pithoragarh', like in the past, as not one but two Chief Secretaries hailing from that district, have since have had the privilege of having headed the state bureaucracy ! It is something like the ancient practice of 'untouchability' which having been legally prohibited by law has now been cleverly 'internalized' by its practitioners ! Another change which has taken place since is that no one any more feels offended by the so-called pejorative term 'Pahari', now it has become almost an honorific ( with Himachali–topi, pyjama and all ). A book entitled Pahari Wilson is likely to do good business primarily because of its 'pre-fix' alone, otherwise Wilson was always depicted as a despicable forest-marauder looting Tehri chirs and deodars.     


In –situ Village Cultural Centres

Indeed the true cultural richness of Uttarakhand has to be savoured staying over night in the villages of Rawain, Jaunsar, or high Himalayan valleys of Niti-Mana, Darma-Byans-Chaudans or in the various Kautik melas of the mid Himalayan valleys. These festivals and over-night traditional dances are the training centers which deserve in-situ help, by way of additional space in the village courtyards, bigger houses verandahs as population increase reduces the common space. It is in the Magh melas of Uttar Kashi or Dwarahat or the Uttarayani mela of Bageshwar that the traditional performers demonstrate their vocal or instrumental skills, duly matched by various forms of group dances. When Lila Dhar Jugudi broached this subject of support to cultural activities in the districts the other day he really wished to draw the attention of Governor Alva towards these main founts of our cultural streams. If these stream were also to dry-up, as many fear is happening in the physical world, the aesthetic world will also suffer a fate similar to our increasing number of depopulated villages due to paucity of drinking water.


It was Manab Chakroborty who as the then Director of the celebrated Museum of Man at Bhopal who espoused the cause of Himalayan villages to be sustained as ' the living Himalayan Museums '. The proposed Doon Cultural Centre will not be housing a Museum, it was stated, and in case one was decided it must not house 'the originals', as the latter tended to render such Centres full of 'security concerns' thus restricting free movements within the precincts of such cultural common premises ( Hugh Gantzer ). Those who have been to Paris, and other locations in France, the cultural capital of Europe, or Rome and other north Italian cultural centers would readily appreciate how such centers easily get converted into 'elitist' centres, out of reach for the masses. It was through a three day Cultural Feast at the then UP Academy of Administration and a two day 'Johar, Kal, Aaj aur Kal' cultural events that the need to attend to the various founts of Uttarakhand culture were once identified. One wonders if our present Culture Czars of Culture department are aware of and sensitive to these intimate details of our 'ethnic and historic' cultural heritage.  


So while sizeable money gets spent on the proposed Doon Culture Centre, let the needs of  several  ' Living Village Museums' of Uttarakhand not get buried into a distant future.


Genesis of Cultural Conservation  

It is worth a recap as we commence re-visiting our cultural heritage in Uttarakhand that it was way back more than half a century ago in 1957 that the need to establish a department named as Indology, Culture and Scientific Research department was felt and its canvas included Archives, Museums, Archaeology, Geology, Mining, the Observatory at Naini Tal, College of Arts and Crafts, a Scientific Research Committee and a few financially assisted institutions like Bhatkhande College of Hindustani Music, Numismatic Society, UP Historical Society and the Nagari Pracharini Sabha. Changes were affected in 1957 itself, 1961, 1963, 1965 and 1975, when it received its current nomenclature. Its management is in the hands of a Directorate with a sanctioned strength is just 25 persons, but without a full time Director to guide and provide it a direction. It is also reflection of the seriousness with which its activities are perceived at the government level.


Face of the Organization


The first issue is, therefore, does it does it not deserve an individual at the helm of its affairs who is not only renowned for his or her cultural expertise and mission but also devote time for energizing the various institutions covering a varied range of cultural streams which constitutes and defines Cultural Affairs. With an ambitious Doon Culture Centre on the drawing board, it was this issue precisely which was meant when Sunil Muttoo enquired about the ' Face of the Organization ' i.e. the Doon Culture Centre. An organization like the proposed Centre will get known for its excellence based on who has been entrusted with the responsibility to provide 'blood and bones' to the body edifice of the Centre. It is now time that such a person with requisite cultural qualifications gets selected and given the onerous but exciting responsibility to give a 'Face to the Organization' as Sunil Muttoo had mentioned. It could be the full time Director of the Cultural Affairs directorate who could also be charged with the responsibility of heading the proposed Centre for at east a fixed term of 3 to 5 years. Whether we like it or not all eminent cultural institutions are associated with the vision of a certain individual or set of individuals who were asked to raise and nurture it. Such eminent persons who have been associated with Uttarakhand or the Himalayas and its culture, who have had practical exposure of having raised some such institution deserve to be short listed by an equally competent Search Committee and before long they must provide such a person to guide the affairs of the proposed Centre, who could also be taken on deputation, or contract, as the Director of the Cultural Affairs directorate. Government Secretaries and officials or the Committees constituted of bureaucrats could never be an ideal alternative to such eminent individual or a team of individuals.      


Managing Cultural Institutions

As we go into serious reflection on an ideal management solution for the proposed Doon Culture Centre ( or any suitable name that may be given to this institution ) it is only natural that we should draw appropriate lessons from our past management experiences of all cultural institutions. The institutions which deserve such an examination are the following:


1.    Govind Ballabh Pant Government Museum, Almora ( 1979),  under a full time Director and its unit at Kausani, a Gallery dedicated to the poet, Sumitra Nandan Pant, at his birth-place, and .


2.    Government Museum Pithoragarh ( date not known), under a Museum Curator with staff.

3.    Bhatkhande Hindustani Sangeet Colleges at Dehra Dun, Almora and Pauri, each headed by a Principal for the College,


4.    Govind Ballabh Pant Lok Kala Sansthan, meant for Naini Tal remains located within the Governmnet Museum premises, as no suitable space could be provided to the Sansthan in Naini Tal, it is headed by a Research Officer. Probably any effort to locate the Sansthan for the place for which it was sanctioned has now been abandoned altogether.


5.    Rang Mandal at Almora and Dehra Dun each for performing arts, at Almora, and Dehra Dun each under a Rang Mandal Sanyojak and supporting staff.


6.    Regional Archaeological Units at Pauri and Almora, each under a Regional Archaeological Officer with staff, and


7.    State Archive of Uttarakhand at Dehra Dun and a Regional Archive at Naini Tal, under a Director and Regional Director respectively,


8.    Among other smaller offices mention must be made of a registration Office for Listing and Registration of Rare and Historical objects and relics, headquartered at Naini Tal under a Registration Officer  and Shahid Smarak at Rampur Tiraha Memorial in Muzzaffarnagar under an In Charge Memorial.


Uttarakhand Sanskriti, Sahitya Evam Kala Parishad

May be in the entire history of Cultural department it was for the first time that eminent citizens who had devoted themselves to some discipline of culture or the other were formally inducted as members of an umbrella Council for the three streams of culture in December 2003. The Office of this Council has also been sanctioned a skeletal supporting staff. Under the Chairmanship of the Chief Minister, there has to be a Vice Chairman, who is to be an eminent expert in the field of art and culture, and besides eight officers the Council was to have as many as 15 eminent experts to be nominated as its Members. The Members to have a tenure of two years. In the original Council as many as 18 experts were nominated and they were drawn from the fields of literature, arts and culture. These Members were reconstituted into three Committees.


These three Committees were expected to give their recommendations for development and long term plans for their respective disciplines and they were also required to prepare projects for implementation by the department.


Committee a Reservoir of Expertise

Arguably the members who were co-opted as Council members represent not only the best talent available within the state in 2003 and 2004 but majority of them have continued to serve their respective disciplines and are active even today.


Some of them have been instrumental in raising and maintaining their private Museums ( Lok Sanskriti, Bhim Tal , Yashodhar Mathpal and Tribal Heritage Museum, Munsyari, Dr Sher Singh Pangtey), which is an object lesson for the official Museums maintained by the department. Then there are some members who are managing Literary institutions ( Mahadevi Trust, Ramgarh, Prof. Laxman Singh Bisht 'Batrohi' and HNB Institute, Srinagar, Prof. D. R. Purohit ) which are far more active and productive than any managed by the departmental functionaries. In terms of organizing various cultural events, including honouring eminent literateurs, reprinting valuable old books, printing precious manuscripts, organizing seminars and workshops, Memorial Lectures perhaps the output of PAHAR, a voluntary cultural and literary institution would be many times more both in quantity and quality than the entire set up of the Cultural Directorate put together.


Citizen Initiatives


PAHAR a voluntary association of practitioners of various disciplines of literature and crafts, who come from almost all disciplines of  art, culture and journalism, have during the past 25 years done much more in promotion of the art and culture of Uttarakhand than all departments and institutions which are funded from the public exchequer. There are several lessons to be drawn from what PAHAR has been able to contribute to the art and cultural fibre of the state, with totally voluntary involvement of its members and scores of supporters and well-wishers.


Then there are private collections of manuscripts and various cultural artifacts ( Tehri State collection with Kunwar Bhawani Pratap Pawar ), old and out of print books ( descendants of Dr. Shiv Prasad Dabral and several others ) and other cultural and historical artifacts which require tremendous efforts in accessing them and displaying them.


Private Museums and collections are not only difficult to maintain financially as well as physically, they become vulnerable to be destroyed by the elements as well as thefts. Similarly various offices and records rooms have old books and primary records which deserve to be preserved and protected, then there are pre Mutiny records remaining in the State Archives of UP which relate to Uttarakhand and needed to be transferred to this State.


Public, Private Partnership ( PPP )

Concept of PPP need not be contemplated for financing the projects and programmes only but deserve to be extended to the management of all existing cultural institutions and those proposed for the future, like the Doon Cultural Centre. With the expertise of private Museum management available it is worth a serious thought that each and every institution being looked after by this department be put under a local Management cum Advisory Committee, with just one officer working as the Secretary of this Management Committee. Just as various institutions are now being handed over either to the PRI or local Users' Groups e.g. drinking water, minor irrigation projects or Hospitals at the district and regional level, allowed to raise funds and spend them on the institution itself should be tried out in this department also. All State level institutions should have similar Management cum Advisory Committees, which should be constituted for the purpose for a fixed period and authorized to raise and spend funds.


All Management Committees could also draw up Annual Calendar of Cultural Events and raise necessary funds with the help of local administration and various charities, private industries etc.

Alternately the various institutions and facilities could also be put under a registered Society under the Registration of Societies Act, with the local district or divisional authorities made to head these societies in their ex-officio capacity, duly assisted by experts included in a Panel of Experts approved by the Culture department. State level institution similarly could also be put under the supervision and control of a state level Society, chaired by state level officers, elected or nominated on the basis of their interest in the cultural discipline who could provide state protection and patronage besides adequate time. Managing cultural institutions like a run of the mill department is a sure guarantee of ensuring that the institution functions in a manner which is neither conducive for promotion of art and culture nor involving the association of major stake-holders like the experts or the citizens for whom these institutions have been established.


Hopefully the Tenth Anniversary celebrations will provide an opportunity when such out of the box solutions are resorted to for   building a culturally dynamic and inclusive Uttarakhand state. 

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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