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Opinion: Conservation Sensitivities

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The 2015 Gorka earthquake collapsed many monuments. There was widespread national and international press coverage of the destruction of heritage sites. This has raised the profile of the culture sector in post-disaster response and recovery planning. This was the first time for a large-scale disaster that the culture sector was taken into account in a Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA). This meant that there was funding earmarked for the restoration and reconstruction of monuments and historic buildings. Six and a half years have passed since the earthquake, and now with the challenge of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, this may be the right opportunity to reflect on what has become our culture sector. This is reviewed here based on the following questions.

Where is the value? There are many aspects of culture that conflict with changing perceptions of human and animal rights, which, therefore, need to be modified or perhaps even discontinued. However, there are many aspects of today’s society that have grown from their cultural roots. To understand a society, one must consider and respect its cultural roots and heritage. Heritage can be defined as something from the past that has value and deserves to be preserved for future generations. The value resides in the accusative, in the material, form, craftsmanship, stakeholders, function, related rituals and beliefs, their sincere and sincere expression, and authenticity. Over the past years, an increased awareness of cultural values ​​can be observed among local communities, which often leads to activism and even legal interventions to protect this value.

What are the basic principles for protecting heritage values? There are no clearly defined protection rules, especially since cultural heritage is so diverse. Where possible, the original should be retained. If any replacement is made, it must be the same as the original in terms of materials and workmanship, or in relation to intangible intent. If there is a need to introduce modern materials and technology, in particular to allow the preservation of original materials, this needs to be justified. These interventions should not be overly intrusive and should be removed without further damaging the original. These principles have not always been considered acceptable. There are those who promote innovation as the traditional approach, while others have adopted the slogan “Build back better” as a justification for introducing modern engineering.

Have we been able to protect our heritage since the earthquake? Natural disasters have had a major impact on Nepal’s cultural heritage, and the response, especially after the Great Bihar earthquake in Nepal in 1934, has not been perfect. In many cases, the response to the 2015 earthquake took the opportunity not only to repair recent damage, but also to correct past interventions that were deemed inadequate. Controversially, heritage is being reinterpreted, improved upon, and strengthened, creating something that is considered better. Moreover, many of the historic monuments are being reconstructed by the lowest bidding contractors without any technical supervision. But the bigger dilemma is the lack of support for traditional craftsmen, who ensure the continuity of building traditions and holders of traditional technology skills and knowledge.

So what is our attitude towards sentiment towards conservation? Each rehabilitation project has its own story of different successes, controversies, methods, and accomplishments. The tangible and intangible heritage stakeholders, and the various societies and authorities, have witnessed drastic changes, particularly over the past few decades. This has degraded preservation sensitivities to a level that threatens the duty to preserve our cultural heritage for future generations. What we need to ask ourselves is whether in the future we will be praised or cursed for our current work on rehabilitation.

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