Missing the Step Swadeshi Governance – Indian Culture, Water & Economy Navina Jafa – www.navinajafa.com

The recently offered 100-day action plan by the Minister for Culture Prahlad Singh Patel ignores the two major crises facing the Nation – The reality of the economy and the National Water Emergency.[1] Existent practical community science to address water, provide traditionally skilled jobs are completely ignored in the plan. The Western Development Model serves the purpose of the present generation only. The article provides strategies to bring sustainable traditional knowledge systems to the center ensuring environmental, development sustainability, and economics.

waterharvesting and community


Modehra- Water tank

Rani ki Vav

While culture serves as the basic tool for divisiveness in society, it does not feature as a tool for development, for democratic community engagement, and conscious responsibility to factor traditional knowledge and sociological systems.

Salihotra Samhita

The Plan Ignores the Cultural Landscape in the Narrative on Development: The plan by the Central Government – Ministry of Culture offers ‘Greening India’ vision that comprises water harvesting by digging multiple pits at 123 heritage sites. A Heritage site does not exist in isolation it is a part of a larger regional specific cultural ecosystem. However, the lack of comprehending cultural heritage has led to disconnecting heritage sites from their surroundings leading to an imbalanced development. For example, the disassociated Taj Mahal with the Agra city and the Yamuna river-heritage has presented developmental imbalance. Contrast this with the Agha Khan initiative of the development of the Humayun’s tomb and its holistic approach to address the Nizamuddin Basti. The monuments are more than seasonal tourism exotica.

Western Model of Development is Fracturing – India has always had in different regions practices of community ownership to conserve common-wealth. Traditional Culture of Community Ownership   The present government’s initiative ignores ‘Swadeshi’ Culture and ratifies the Western model of development, and is frozen in the top to bottom approach. Interestingly, it was always important in traditional sociological dynamics for sharing the responsibility for community commonwealth. One of the expressions remains is Shramdaan which means Voluntary contribution by way of physical labor resulting in community ownership to improve the environment.

community ownership shram daan

Another example in several traditional societies all over the world is that of ‘sacred groves’. This implies community ownership to protect bio-diverse natural resources. In India, some community practices emerge as resistance by civil voices against the Western model of development. The latter provides solutions in the present but results in a damaging environment for future generations.

sacred grove goa

In Udaipur, Rajasthan there is along the city lake the Gangaur Ghat. Gangaur festival and on other occasions the community gather to clean and de-silt lakes in the urban landscape addressing their water security.

citizenbs clean lake in udaipur

Recently, in the name of development (building roads, metros, mining) a number of forests, trees are endangered. Cutting of trees has fractured community ‘sacred groves’ that assert community responsibility to conserve local biodiversity.

Building roads and investment in tourism infrastructural development ignore local cultural centuries-old sustainable practices to sustain resources. For example, along with the sacred river space of Uttaranchal the building of roads without taking into consideration river-beds, and other natural geographical consideration has ruptured community practices for community ownership of natural resources such as the practices of ‘Jal Yatra’ (community water worship processions).

jal yatra

Suggested Strategies: There is a need for a definitive strategy to bring transformative change. A program that addresses water crises, creates jobs, and sustainable development.

A suggestive approach: Begin with tabulating a geographical region-wise grid of the 123 heritagescapes coordinated with local traditional water-wisdom, and other scientific heritage knowledge.

Second, translate the tabulated information in action by evolving an action plan for systematic community engagement with the heritage sites. This will imply bringing back the Swadeshi parampara (tradition) of community commonwealth ownership.

The sites can be the focal point to form ‘paramapara panchayats’. The plan must work to bring in groups like the Anganwadi, resident welfare associations and other civil society bodies to actively claim community ownership of water security and practical science for everyday life. This will illustrate the development from below.

Thirdly, the amplification of information of the multilayered heritage-site program through Development Communication for larger community involvement. For this, using regional linguistic specific traditional folk performing arts can be effective and also provide job work for the marginalized skilled performance communities and help conserving intangible heritage.

This ‘Combined Heritage program’ in the 123 Heritage site can be the Link Program for Water Emergency and Job Creation in each heritage-landscape. The site program will serve to connect local Natural heritage with traditional science and skill heritage. It will empower communities at the grassroots and ensure sustainability.

Misplaced Scientific Cultural Steps – Suggestions to Redirect for Community Participation  

science water

The action plan also talks about taking scientific knowledge to rural children by investing in mobile van science museums. Viewing the present National crises, the culture of science needs to part of everyday life. As mentioned above the purpose can be served in the suggested Heritage site program. The site program can incorporate for instance, besides traditional water-wisdom, scientific heritage on categorizing plants by indigenous communities, sustainable practices concerning seeds and irrigation. The mobile van ‘museums’ are non-productive, misdirected utilization of public money and ignores larger urgent issues.

Lost Opportunity to Address Cleaning of the Ganga- Kawar Yatra – Additionally, the action plan will develop places for aarti along sacred rivers for daily pilgrim by installing large LED screens and audio systems. This spectacle is again ignoring urgent community ownership, maintenance, and recharging of the ‘sacred’ water bodies. The rivers, lakes, ponds, step-wells need to be de-silted and cleaned off of garbage and plastic. The contrast can be best gauged by referring to contrasting community expressions. Water expert Farhad Contractor says, “The urban city of Udaipur illustrates existent living water wisdom and community practices. For instance, during the celebration of the festival of Ganghaur, women gather around lakes. They engage in cleaning the lakes so that they can continue to be used by the people and provide clean recreational and worship spaces.” In contrast, the present UP government in the Badaun district organized daily aartis during the recent Kanwariya Yatra. Reports refer that the District Collector, the chief administrative officer of the district routinely attended the aartis rather than motivating the public incidentally comprising of a very large number of male-youth to stake ownership and participate to clean the Ganga. This is similar to the recently completed spectacle of the Ardh Kumbh that was converted as a Maha Kumbh Mela celebration by the Uttar Pradesh Government. The huge investment was sold as a tourism spectacle and there was huge investment advertised to illustrate Swachh Bharat. At the end of the festival, it was evident that there was planning to deal with the garbage leaving the river and the city dirtier than ever before.

This misplaced action plan by the Cultural Ministry ignores the potentiality of Culture to contribute to development. In the directionless plan, the emphasis is confining culture to create spectacles and quick showbiz elements. The lack of engagement of subject knowledge experts as consultants is evident. With the economy nose-diving, and important issues like joblessness and water scarcity on hand the 100-day action plan is flimsy.  There is the need for bringing in cultural heritage professionals, and for responsible investment to address the larger issues of jobs and water-crises rather than injecting the masses with the opium of spiritual spectacles.

About the Writer:

navina jafa

Dr. Navina Jafa, a multifaceted polyglot is hailed by the Financial Express as the ‘Gatekeeper of the Spectacular!’, by the Times of India as ‘Experience Architect’. She is a specialist in Indian, Asian Cultural Heritage. Her multiple roles include that of a thinker, academician, performing artist (classical dancer), writer, and heritage interpreter and engaged in grassroots sustainable development.  She is Director of Indian Cultural Heritage Research and Vice President of Centre for New Perspectives.


The Hindu – 1st August, 2019,https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/culture-ministrys-100-day-agenda/article28788152.ece

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