Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVI No. 20, February 1-15, 2017
‘Pride in my city’ is the very basic mind-set that needs to be created, if heritage is to be preserved in Madras that is Chennai. This was emphasised at a recent meeting the Chennai Chapter of INTACH held with NGOs, activists and professionals dedicated to the preservation of heritage. Ways and means of strengthening efforts towards creating awareness of the value of heritage and ensuring its maintenance and preservation were suggested.
It was felt that a collective feeling of “possessiveness” for community assets and treasures has to be created and sustained by a powerful campaign through classrooms, heritage clubs, group meetings, mass media and other measures. Community-wide commitment, and watchfulness against vandalism and neglect, requires widening the present involvement base many fold. There is a perception that heritage activity is a “pet hobby” confined to elders, the affluent and the elitist. This perception needs to be removed by reaching out to the younger generation and the middle class, making participation an interesting experience for them.
Government is focused on Cultural Heritage and puts in considerable resources to protect it, but the same measure of enthusiasm and commitment has not been much in evidence for the preserving of Built and Natural Heritage, according to a senior activist associated with the movement since its pioneering years. Seminars involving senior officials and Ministers, peaceful demonstrations for specific action/inaction are necessary to get more serious attention paid by Government in Built and Natural Heritage.
While securing greater commitment to heritage conservation is the aim, if it is to be sustained it should be ensured that it is institutionalised and does not become dependent on the generosity and concern of individuals. There is a possibility of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department starting a conservation cell very soon. From the initial stages, close rapport should be built with this cell to safeguard against the cell remaining only in name; at least, upkeep of one major segment of heritage could thus get institutionalised.
Citing the delay in restoring the heritage building of the Bharat Insurance Company, despite legal pressure upon LIC to institute restoration, it was suggested that there should be more stringent legal enforcement, be it in the case of a public or a private institution. Simultaneously, the three-year-old Heritage Act needs immediate implementation and enforcement.
Once a heritage structure is demolished it cannot be recalled or reversed, observed one of the participants. Therefore, anticipatory action is necessary to avoid irreversible damage by bureaucratic indifference. PWD being the main actor in the repair and maintenance of public buildings, the potential to cause such damage is enormous if it does not fulfil its role of caretaking.
Sensitisation and training programmes both for the public and private sectors should be an important part of the conservation strategy. Even a well-intentioned restoration or repair work is often done in a manner that it becomes a threat to the structure or disturbs the character-defining elements of the original architecture. Lack of training is the cause of such disasters. Expanding on this, an experienced construction specialist, suggested periodic sensitisation and training sessions, calling them “workshops” to avoid causing offence in using the word “training”. In such sessions, modern methods of conservation adopted by developed countries could be imparted besides identifying the immense potential in adaptive re-use of the original material for the restoration, not for mere cost effectiveness but, more importantly, for keeping the character of the restored structure as close to the original as possible.
One of the participants suggested taking the initiative to link local restoration needs with MP Local Area Development or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funding, the former with MLAs and MPs and the latter with corporates. CII and other industry and trade bodies could possibly help the movement by suggesting restoration projects to their members for utilising funds earmarked for CSR. Heritage enthusiasts should keep “ready on a platter” projects offering a wide choice in terms of content, costs and locations, he said. Preparing such a portfolio of project profiles should be taken up on a priority basis. Advocacy through corporates has yielded encouraging results in other areas, such as popularisation of traditional games and anti-tobacco campaigns, according to another participant. Why not heritage?
Teaching young children at school to appreciate the beauty and value of heritage objects for their own sake and not for examinations and marks, supplemented by excursions to heritage sites, would lead to a more natural commitment to the cause than during adulthood. The subject should be introduced in the school curriculum, but ways must be found of making the knowledge interesting. Poorly printed books with smudged black and white pictures of beautiful buildings are enough to turn off young minds. So are dull teachers, contests and competitions for schools and activating heritage clubs in educational institutions were other ideas suggested for mobilising the involvement of the younger generation.
At a higher level, for civil engineering and architecture classes, conservation must be made an integral part of the curriculum – not an elective. Conservation alone as an elective may not have many takers due to its relatively limited scope as a source of income. Every civil engineer and every architect must learn conservation as part of the B.E., B.Tech., B.Arch. syllabus, equipping him or her to take on restoration projects and look for such opportunities.
On the intangible side, while dance and art forms receive attention, not enough effort is devoted to reviving beautiful traditional forms like therukkoothu, sindu-kavadi, silambattam etc. Several other cultural skills are not sufficiently recognised – shadow puppetry, garland-making (different garlands for each day at the Kapali Temple festival), basket making –particularly as they also serve a socio-economic purpose in providing a source of income to women. Traditional products could be given new life adapting them to contemporary designs.
The symposium threw up several ideas and identified weaknesses and gaps in the present activists’ scenario. Many existing practices may need to be improved. There should also be a teaming up of NGOs involved in all aspects of heritage and frequent discussions among them, like the one recently held, to at least assess whether any progress is made on the suggestions given.