KATHMANDU: In November 2005, I accompanied a reactive monitoring mission that was being carried out by UNESCO/ World Heritage Centre and their advisory body ICOMOS to Lumbini. The new structure, known as the Maya Devi Temple, was considered inappropriate, and there was a commotion to figure out how to respond to this construction. Rectifying something gone wrong is a delicate matter, since there is a tendency to point figures, blame each other and find
a scapegoat. In this case, the blame lay on the fact that there was no management system in place to ensure an appropriate conclusion to the excavation work between 1992 and 1995. A management system is being put in place and rectification discussed.
However, at the time, major riots were taking place in Paris and a state of emergency had been
declared in France. In Nepal, the 19 days of strikes and curfews of April 2006 had not yet taken place. But interesting observations could be made in the discussions that ensued from the French riots. It was baffling and incomprehensible that such violent protests should ensue from the feelings of discrimination in a country where equality (along with liberty and fraternity) was the very foundation.
The French riots raised the question whether a system that expounds an equality which considers everyone to be ‘the same’ is suitable. This requires a homogenisation of the citizens. Should all citizens of France have — or need to adopt — the characteristics of what is regarded as being French? In stark contrast, the equality understood in Canada is diversity. This allows for a patchwork of communities from around the globe; where the communities live next to one
another, retaining original identity and respecting the identity of neighbours. This is supposed to create a ‘cultural mosaic’ rather than a ‘melting pot’. This raises the question: what is Canadian?
The discussion on equality can be perilous, but is essential. The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’. This is rather like the French motto of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’. Closely associated, the fourth article of the Universal Declaration of Cultural Diversity reads: ‘The defence of cultural diversity is an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity. It implies a commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular the rights of persons belonging to minorities and those of indigenous peoples. No one may invoke cultural diversity to infringe upon human rights guaranteed by international law, nor to limit their scope’. These are closely linked to safeguarding culture. The state must acknowledge all cultural differences, but must at the same time ensure the personal rights of every individual.
There is an added dimension to be considered. An article in The Economist on the survival
of rare languages ended with a quote from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: “For everything to stay the same, everything must change. If it does not, everything will be lost.” This rather Zen concept could be the saving grace for safeguarding cultures. It is only through adaptation to change that cultures can survive.
(The author is an architect
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